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Leniart v. Murphy

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

March 31, 2016



SARAH A. L. MERRIAM, Magistrate Judge.

The plaintiff, George M. Leniart ("plaintiff"), brings this action against the defendants[1] pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging, inter alia, that the defendants interfered with his attorney-client privileged material, both as a pre-trial detainee and as a convicted prisoner, in violation of the First, Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. [Doc. #80].

Pending before the Court is defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. [Doc. #163].[2] Plaintiff has filed a Memorandum of Law in Opposition to defendants' motion [Doc. #174], to which defendants have filed a reply [Doc. #176] and supplemental reply [Doc. #177].[3] At the Court's direction, plaintiff filed a sur-reply on December 9, 2015. [Doc. ##179, 180].

For the reasons articulated below, the defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. #163] is GRANTED.

I. Background

Plaintiff filed his complaint pro se on October 21, 2011. [Doc. #1].[4] Counsel was appointed pro bono on March 4, 2014. [Doc. #128]. Following several amendments of his initial pleading, plaintiff now proceeds under the operative Second Supplemental Amended Complaint (the "Complaint"), which purports to be verified. [Doc. #80 at 33]. The Complaint alleges five counts, each of which implicates several of the named defendants as identified supra. The crux of plaintiff's Complaint is that his rights secured by the First, Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments were violated by the various defendants when his handwritten "legal notes, " in which he contends he had an expectation of "legal privacy, " were read and/or confiscated. [Doc. #80 at 24-25]. Plaintiff also alleges that certain defendants failed to investigate and/or act upon his "constitutional complaints[.]" Id. at 25-27.

II. Local Rule 56(a) Statements

Before turning to a recitation of the undisputed material facts, the Court will address the argument raised in defendants' reply brief that the Court should deem certain facts admitted. Defendants assert that plaintiff has "chosen not to offer any evidence to controvert many facts, and instead alleges neither admit or deny - not material, '" as to the following paragraphs of defendants' Local Rule 56(a) Statement 34, 35, 37, 38, 39, 78, 80, 81, 83-88, 94-96, 103, 105-09, 111-14, 117-26, 133-35, 137-39, 141-43, 149-61, 164-78, 189, 192-95, 197, 199, 220-22, 225, and 227-32. [Doc. #176 at 4]. Plaintiff has not responded to this argument.

District of Connecticut Local Civil Rule ("D. Conn. L. Civ. R.") 56(a)1 requires that every summary judgment motion be accompanied by a "Local Rule 56(a)1 Statement, " setting forth in separately numbered paragraphs "a concise statement of each material fact as to which the moving party contends there is no genuine issue to be tried." D. Conn. L. Civ. R. 56(a)1. A party opposing summary judgment must include with its opposition a "Local Rule 56(a)2 Statement, "

which states in separately numbered paragraphs meeting the requirements of Local Rule 56(a)3 and corresponding to the paragraphs contained in the moving party's Local Rule 56(a)1 Statement whether each of the facts asserted by the moving party is admitted or denied.

D. Conn. L. Civ. R. 56(a)2. Local Rule 56(a)3 further mandates that

each denial in an opponent's Local Rule 56(a)2 Statement, must be followed by a specific citation to (1) the affidavit of a witness competent to testify as to the facts at trial and/or (2) evidence that would be admissible at trial[.]... [F]ailure to provide specific citations to evidence in the record as required by this Local Rule may result in the Court deeming certain facts that are supported by the evidence admitted[.]

D. Conn. L. Civ. R. 56(a)3 (alterations added).

Courts in this District have not hesitated to deem admitted facts that are not appropriately denied at summary judgment. See Carone v. Mascolo, 573 F.Supp.2d 575, 581 (D. Conn. 2008) ("When a party fails to appropriately deny material facts set forth in the movant's Rule 56(a)(1) statement, those facts are deemed admitted." (quoting Knight v. Hartford Police Dep't, No. 304CV969(PCD), 2006 WL 1438649, at *4 (D. Conn. May 22, 2006))); see also Giglio v. Derman, 560 F.Supp.2d 163, 166 (D. Conn. 2008) (failure of Local Rule 56(a)2 statement to cite to evidence in the record "allow[ed] the Court to deem such paragraphs admitted"); Wanamaker v. Town of Westport Bd. of Educ., No. 311CV1791(MPS)(WIG), 2013 WL 3816592, at *3 n.3 (D. Conn. July 22, 2013) ("[C]ertain decisions from this District have held that it is an improper response for a non-moving party to respond that he or she lacks personal knowledge and can neither admit nor deny the statement." (citing cases)). Accordingly,

[w]here the Plaintiff has objected to Defendant's facts but has failed to support her objection with any admissible evidence in the record, where the record itself does not support Plaintiff's denials, or where the Plaintiff has neither admitted nor denied a fact and where the record supports such fact, those facts are deemed to be admitted. Where a statement is not supported by the record, the Court either notes such or does not rely on the purported fact in its determination.

Johnson v. Conn. Dep't of Admin. Servs., 972 F.Supp.2d 223, 229 (D. Conn. 2013) (collecting cases), aff'd, 588 F.Appx. 71 (2d Cir. 2015).

Here, plaintiff's response to 91 out of 232 paragraphs in the defendants' Local Rule 56(a) statement is "NEITHER ADMIT OR DENY - NOT MATERIAL." [Doc. #174-1, ¶¶ 34, 35, 37, 38, 39, 78, 80, 81, 83-88, 94-96, 103, 105-09, 111-14, 117-26, 133-35, 137-39, 141-43, 149-61, 164-78, 189, 192-95, 197, 199, 220-22, 225, and 227-32]. Because plaintiff fails to support any response to these paragraphs with a citation to the record in compliance with D. Conn. L. Civ. R. 56(a)3, the Court will deem admitted any fact that is in fact material, which is neither admitted nor denied, and supported by the record.

III. Legal Standard

The standards governing summary judgment are well-settled. Summary judgment is appropriate only "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits... show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)[.]

Marvel Characters, Inc. v. Simon, 310 F.3d 280, 285-86 (2d Cir. 2002). Summary judgment is proper if, after discovery, the nonmoving party "has failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of [his] case with respect to which [he] has the burden of proof." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (alterations added).

"The party seeking summary judgment has the burden to demonstrate that no genuine issue of material fact exists."[5] Marvel Characters, 310 F.3d at 286. The moving party may discharge this burden by "pointing out to the district court... that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 325; see also Goenaga v. Mar. of Dimes Birth Defects Found., 51 F.3d 14, 18 (2d Cir. 1995) ("In moving for summary judgment against a party who will bear the ultimate burden of proof at trial, the movant's burden will be satisfied if he can point to an absence of evidence to support an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim.").

In deciding a motion for summary judgment, "[t]he court must resolve all ambiguities and draw all inferences in favor of the nonmoving party[.]" Aldrich v. Randolph Cent. Sch. Dist., 963 F.2d 520, 523 (2d Cir. 1992). "If there is any evidence in the record that could reasonably support a jury's verdict for the non-moving party, summary judgment must be denied." Am. Home Assur. Co. v. Hapag Lloyd Container Linie, GmbH, 446 F.3d 313, 315 (2d Cir. 2006) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Marvel, 310 F.3d at 286). However, "the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986) (emphases in original).

"In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the district court may rely on any material that would be admissible or usable at trial." Major League Baseball Props., Inc. v. Salvino, Inc., 542 F.3d 290, 309 (2d Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Azrielli v. Cohen Law Offices, 21 F.3d 512, 517 (2d Cir. 1997)). Where, as here, "a summary judgment motion is supported or opposed by affidavits, those affidavits shall be made on personal knowledge, shall set forth such facts as would be admissible in evidence, and shall show affirmatively that the affiant is competent to testify to the matters stated therein.'" Id. at 310 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)). Therefore,

[i]n order to defeat a properly supported summary judgment motion, the opposing party must proffer admissible evidence that "set[s] forth specific facts" showing a genuinely disputed factual issue that is material under the applicable legal principles. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); see, e.g., Patterson v. County of Oneida, 375 F.3d 206, 219 (2d Cir. 2004)[.] A party opposing summary judgment does not show the existence of a genuine issue of fact to be tried merely by making assertions that are conclusory, see, e.g., Kulak v. City of New York, 88 F.3d 63, 71 (2d Cir. 1996), or based on speculation, see, e.g., id. ("Though we must accept as true the allegations of the party defending against the summary judgment motion, drawing all reasonable inferences in his favor, ... conclusory statements, conjecture, or speculation by the party resisting the motion will not defeat summary judgment.")[.]

Major League Baseball, 542 F.3d at 310 (alterations added).

IV. Facts

The Court sets forth only those facts deemed necessary to an understanding of the issues raised in, and decision rendered on, this motion for summary judgment. The following factual summary is based on plaintiff's Complaint [Doc. #80], defendants' Local Rule 56(a)1 Statement of Material Facts [Doc. #163-2] and Supplemental Local Rule 56(a)1 Statement [Doc. #165-4] (collectively "Def. 56(a)1 Statement"), plaintiff's Local Rule 56(a)2 Statement of Material Facts [Doc. #174-1] ("Pl. 56(a)2 Statement"), and accompanying affidavits, depositions and exhibits, to the extent that they are admissible evidence. The following factual summary, therefore, does not represent factual findings of the Court. All facts stated below are undisputed (or have been deemed undisputed) unless stated otherwise.

On June 22, 2010, plaintiff was sentenced in Connecticut Superior Court, Judicial District of New London, to a term of imprisonment of life without parole for three counts of capital felony murder and one count of murder. [Def. 56(a)1 Statement, ¶ 2, Pl. 56(a)2 Statement, ¶ 2 (admitted)]. Plaintiff is currently incarcerated at Cheshire Correctional Institution, where he has been held since August 9, 2012. Id. at ¶¶ 1, 6. Prior to plaintiff's transfer to Cheshire, he was held in the MacDougall Walker Correctional Institution ("MWCI"), which is a high/maximum level facility for adult males. Id. at ¶¶ 4, 185. MWCI is comprised of two facilities, the Walker building and the MacDougall building. Id. at ¶ 186. From April 1, 2008, until August 11, 2010, plaintiff was housed in the Walker Building of MWCI, and then from August 12, 2010, until August 9, 2012, in the MacDougall building of that same facility. Id. at ¶¶ 4, 5.

A. 2008 Events

Defendant Antonio Villarini ("Villarini") was working as an Admitting and Processing ("A&P") Officer in the Walker building of MWCI on October 20, 2008, and November 17, 2008. [Def. 56(a)1 Statement, ¶ 8, Pl. 56(a)2 Statement, ¶ 8 (admitted)]. As an A&P Officer, Villarini was responsible for processing inmates in and out of holding cells for transportation to court. Id. at ¶ 11. When Villarini processed a prisoner in the A&P area, the inmate would be moved from one holding cell to another; if an inmate had legal documents with him, he was not permitted to keep these documents with him while in the holding cell. Id. at ¶¶ 13-14, 75. Rather, an inmate's legal papers were placed on a stainless steel table outside of the holding cell, where manila envelopes containing legal papers were searched within the view of inmates, and inspected to ensure they did not contain any drugs, weapons, paper clips, or other contraband. Id. at ¶¶ 15-16, 75. Although an individual inmate could lose sight of his legal materials during a strip search, the materials otherwise stayed within the view of all inmates confined in the holding cells. Id. at ¶ 16.

The following events are denied by defendants. Plaintiff alleges that on October 20, 2008, he was brought to the A&P room for transport to a scheduled court appearance. [Doc. #80 at ¶ 12]. Upon arrival to the A&P room, Villarini ordered plaintiff to place his legal folder, which plaintiff contends was marked "legal/confidential", on a steel table, to which plaintiff initially objected, but then obeyed upon receiving a direct order from another officer. Id. at ¶ 13. Plaintiff alleges that following a strip search, he was moved to a holding cell to await transport, where he observed Villarini spending over thirty minutes reading through his legal documents, making comments about their contents, and removing newspaper clippings and handwritten documents. Id. at ¶¶ 14-15, 19. Plaintiff alleges that he was able to see these events "through a reflection in the glass of a opposite holding cell window."Id. at ¶ 20 (sic). When plaintiff received his materials, he noticed "numerous documents were missing" and as a result, was "unable to proceed with critical lines of discussion" with his criminal defense attorney, with whom he was meeting on that day. Id. at ¶¶ 26-27.

Plaintiff also alleges that a similar violation occurred on November 17, 2008. Unless otherwise stated, defendants deny the following events as alleged by plaintiff. Plaintiff alleges that on November 17, 2008, he was "brought on another 3am[] court trip which mirrored the last on 10-20-08." [Doc. #80 at ¶ 31]. Plaintiff alleges that while awaiting transport, he watched defendant Villarini and other officers search through his manila envelope, which contained, among other items, a 26 page hand-written timeline containing "crucial information of facts explaining in detail a twelve year occurrence of events critical to [his] capitol felony arrest, and a six page outline of a posed defense strategy[.]" Id. at ¶¶ 32-33. Plaintiff alleges that the correctional officers, including Villarini, read these materials and that Villarini then took the documents to a corner office, after which plaintiff was able to see "flashes from the photocopier." [Doc. #80 at ¶¶ 34-35]. While this was happening, plaintiff began yelling, kicking and rattling the cell door. Id. at ¶¶ 35-36. Plaintiff's actions prompted defendant Ronald Black to enter the A&P room and give plaintiff a direct order to stop kicking the door. [Def. 56(a)1 Statement, ¶¶ 205-206, Pl. 56(a)2 Statement, ¶¶ 205-206 (admitted)]; [Doc. #80 at ¶ 37].[6] Following Black's direct ...

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