United States District Court, D. Connecticut
INITIAL REVIEW ORDER
A. BOLDEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Yasser Cruz, currently incarcerated at the MacDougall-Walker
Correctional Institution, filed this complaint pro se under
42 U.S.C. § 1983 (“Section 1983”), on August
3, 2016. Mr. Cruz' motion to proceed in forma pauperis
was granted on August 5, 2016. The defendants are Lieutenant
Prior, Counselor Dumas and District Administrator Angel
Quiros. Mr. Cruz asserts a claim for denial of due process at
a disciplinary hearing, the result of which caused him to be
declared a member of the Security Risk Group
(“SRG”) Latin Kings, and confined in restrictive
housing for the next two years. See Compl. ¶
37, ECF No. 1. Mr. Cruz seeks declaratory and injunctive
relief as well as damages.
Standard of Review
28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the Court must review prisoner civil
complaints and dismiss any portion of the complaint that is
frivolous or malicious, that fails to state a claim upon
which relief may be granted, or that seeks monetary relief
from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915A. In reviewing a pro se complaint, the Court must
“liberally construe [the] pleadings, ” and
interpret the complaint to “raise the strongest
arguments it suggests.” Abbas v. Dixon, 480
F.3d 636, 639 (2d Cir. 2007); see also Tracy v.
Freshwater, 623 F.3d 90, 101-03 (2d Cir. 2010)
(discussing special solicitude that courts ought to show to
pro se litigants). Although detailed allegations are not
required, the complaint must still include sufficient facts
to afford the defendants fair notice of the claims and the
grounds upon which they are based and to demonstrate a right
to relief. Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544,
555-56 (2007). Conclusory allegations are not sufficient.
See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). The
plaintiff must plead “enough facts to state a claim to
relief that is plausible on its face.”
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570.
March 23, 2016, Mr. Cruz was housed in general population at
Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center and classified as an
overall risk level 3. Compl. ¶ 5, ECF No. 1. That day,
Captain Dougherty allegedly placed Mr. Cruz in restrictive
housing on administrative detention status, pending
investigation. Id. ¶¶ 6-7. On March 28,
2016, while confined in restrictive housing, a disciplinary
report, issued by Captain Dougherty, was allegedly delivered
to Mr. Cruz. Id. ¶¶ 8-9. The disciplinary
report allegedly charged Mr. Cruz with the offense of SRG
affiliation. Id. ¶ 10. The disciplinary report
allegedly stated that, following an investigation, Mr. Cruz
was found to display behaviors associated with the SRG Latin
Kings, namely, that he participated in an act of violence in
the dormitory on March 23, 2016. Id. ¶ 11. Mr.
Cruz denied involvement in any act of violence on that
date. Id. ¶ 12.
disciplinary report allegedly contained no specific
information regarding the act of violence; no witnesses were
identified and no incident reports or video footage were
cited as evidence. Id. ¶ 13. Mr. Cruz alleges
that the report was too vague to enable him to understand the
charges against him and prepare a defense. Id.
¶¶ 14-15. Mr. Cruz alleges that he was never issued
a disciplinary report relating to the underlying assault.
Id. ¶ 16.
March 29, 2016, Mr. Cruz allegedly met with a disciplinary
investigator, Correctional Officer Dousis. Id.
¶ 17. Mr. Cruz pled not guilty to the charge, elected to
have the assistance of an advocate, and asked to view the
evidence against him. Id. ¶¶ 19-20.
Officer Dousis allegedly denied Mr. Cruz's request to
view the evidence, on the ground that the evidence was
confidential. Id. ¶ 21. On or around March 30,
2016, Mr. Cruz allegedly met with his advocate, Mr. Dumas.
Mr. Cruz allegedly provided Mr. Dumas with written and oral
statements and asked to view the evidence that would be
submitted at the hearing. Id. ¶¶ 22-23.
Mr. Dumas allegedly denied this request, on the grounds that
the evidence was confidential. Id. Mr. Dumas
allegedly failed to conduct any independent investigation.
Id. ¶ 24.
disciplinary hearing was held on March 31, 2016 before
Lieutenant Prior, Mr. Dumas, and Officer Dousis. Id.
¶ 25. Lieutenant Prior allegedly upheld the previous
denials of Mr. Cruz's request to view the evidence
against him. Id. ¶¶ 26-27. Lieutenant
Prior allegedly found Mr. Cruz guilty of SRG affiliation.
Id. ¶ 29. As a result of the guilty finding,
Defendant Quiros allegedly caused Mr. Cruz to be designated
an SRG member and transferred to the SRG restrictive housing
unit at MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution.
Id. ¶¶ 30-31. Mr. Cruz was allegedly not
informed, either before or during the hearing, that this
designation and transfer could occur. Id.
Cruz alleges that he must remain on SRG status for two years
before he is eligible to return to general population.
Id. ¶ 34. Allegedly, conditions in the SRG unit
are qualitatively and quantitatively different from
conditions experienced by other inmates. Id. ¶
35. Mr. Cruz is allegedly denied all parole opportunities,
the ability to earn risk reduction or good time credits,
vocational and educational training, recreation, use of
exercise equipment, congregated religious services, private
medical or mental health counseling sessions and use of
televisions. He alleges that he is required to remain in his
cell with his cellmate for 23 or 24 hours a day and that he
is handcuffed with hands behind his back during his one hour
per day exercise time. Id. ¶ 36.
the Supreme Court's ruling in Sandin v. Conner,
515 U.S. 472 (1995), inmates have no due process rights in
relation to prison disciplinary proceedings, “unless a
liberty interest” protected by due process “was
infringed as a result” of those disciplinary
proceedings. Palmer v. Richards, 364 F.3d 60, 64 (2d
Cir. 2004). Thus, to state his claim for denial of due
process in connection with his being declared a member of a
SRG and put in restrictive housing while incarcerated, Mr.
Cruz must “establish that he had a protected liberty
interest in being free from the punishment that was imposed
upon him.” Scott v. Albury, 156 F.3d 283, 286
(2d Cir. 1998). Mr. Cruz has a protected liberty interest
only (1) if the state has created a liberty interest in a
statute or regulation and (2) deprivation of that interest
caused plaintiff to suffer an “atypical and significant
hardship in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison
life.” Sandin, 515 U.S. at 484; Anderson
v. Recore, 317 F.3d 194, 200 (2d Cir. 2003)
(“[T]he Sandin court indicated that in the
intra-prison disciplinary context, deprivation of a
state-created liberty interest generally must impose an
atypical and significant hardship in relation to the ordinary
incidents of prison life in order to trigger due process
protection.”) (internal quotation marks omitted).
this determination, the Court must examine the punishment Mr.
Cruz received. See Palmer, 364 F.3d at 64
(“[W]e read Sandin to require that we look to
[the] actual punishment in making this
determination.”). “Factors relevant to
determining whether” an inmate plaintiff “endured
an ‘atypical and significant hardship'” under
Sandin include (a) “the extent to which the
conditions of the disciplinary segregation differ from other
routine prison conditions” and (b) “the duration
of the disciplinary segregation imposed compared to
discretionary confinement. Id. (internal quotation
Sandin, the Supreme Court held that confinement in
restrictive housing for thirty days for disciplinary reasons
did not implicate a constitutionally protected liberty
interest. 515 U.S. at 485-86. The Second Circuit has held
that confinement in restrictive housing for less than 101
days does not constitute an atypical and significant hardship
sufficient to state a claim under Sandin, but that
confinement for 305 days does. See Sealey v.
Giltner, 197 F.3d 578, 589 (2d Cir. 1999) (finding that
101 day confinement in restrictive housing, while
“doubtless unpleasant, ” did not constitute an
atypical and significant hardship); but see Colon v.
Howard, 215 F.3d 227, 231 (2d Cir. 2000) (holding that
confinement in segregation for 305 days is sufficient
departure from ordinary incidents of prison life to require
procedural due process ...