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Ziemba v. Lajoie

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

September 26, 2016

DUANE ZIEMBA, Plaintiff,
MICHAEL LAJOIE, et al., Defendants.


          Jeffrey Alker Meyer United States District Judge

         While serving a state prison sentence, plaintiff discovered one day that he had a new cellmate. His cellmate had just been transferred to plaintiff's prison after having tried to murder his last cellmate at a different prison and after warning prison officials that he would murder any future inmate assigned to live with him. Within hours of the new cellmate assignment, the cellmate allegedly launched a violent attack against plaintiff and attacked him again the next day.

         Plaintiff has filed this lawsuit contending in principal part that numerous prison officials were deliberately indifferent to his constitutional rights and that they put him in danger to retaliate for his many prior complaints about them. Defendants have moved for summary judgment. I will grant the motion in part and deny it in part, as I conclude that there are genuine issues of fact for trial as to two of the remaining prison official defendants.


         The complaint in this case alleges numerous causes of action arising from plaintiff's imprisonment at Northern Correctional Institution (NCI) in Somers, Connecticut. All of the causes of action stem from plaintiff's basic claim that prison officials decided and allowed him to be housed in a prison cell with extraordinarily dangerous inmates who prison officials knew or were deliberately indifferent to the possibility that they would attack him.

         Plaintiff has named the following defendants: Brian Murphy, the former Acting Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Correction (DOC); Michael Lajoie, the former District Administrator of the DOC; Angel Quiros, the former warden of NCI; and Jason Cahill, a former captain and unit manager of the 1 East Housing Unit at NCI.

         Following the Court's prior grant in part of a motion to dismiss (Doc. #43) and plaintiffs motion to withdraw his claims against certain defendants (Doc. #64), the following claims remain against the following defendants in this case:

• Count Two alleges against Quiros and Cahill a claim of deliberate indifference and failure to protect under the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution.
• Count Three alleges against Quiros a claim of supervisory liability for Cahill's violation of plaintiff s constitutional rights.
• Count Four alleges against Quiros and Cahill a claim of retaliation in violation of plaintiffs rights under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
• Count Five alleges an assortment of state law claims against Murphy, LaJoie, Quiros, and Cahill.

         Defendants now move for summary judgment as to all the remaining claims, except that Cahill does not seek summary judgment as to the federal constitutional claims asserted against him to the extent that they are not premised on allegations of negligence.[1]

         The following facts are presented in the light most favorable to plaintiff as the non-moving party. NCI is a maximum security prison facility. It features an administrative segregation unit that Connecticut uses for inmates who have caused severe problems at other Connecticut prison facilities. Some of the inmates at the administrative segregation unit are housed in single cells, and others are housed in cells with other inmates.

         Plaintiff has a long disciplinary history while imprisoned numerous times in Connecticut, including at least three prior designations to the administrative segregation unit at NCI in 1998, 2002, and 2008. Doc. #140-1 at 5-6 (describing prior incidents). In September 2009, plaintiff was transferred to NCI after having been the subject of disciplinary proceedings while at another prison facility involving his alleged assault on a correctional officer. At NCI he was eventually designated to the administrative segregation unit.

         Defendant Jason Cahill was the manager of plaintiff's unit. Plaintiff had numerous run-ins with Cahill throughout October 2009, and he complained vociferously to the warden- defendant Angel Quiros-about Cahill's treatment of him, and then complained in turn that Quiros was not responding appropriately to his complaints.[2]

         Soon enough, there was another arrival to the administrative segregation unit at NCI: inmate Michael Giangreco. At the time, Giangreco was serving a 30-year sentence for murder. Giangreco had ended up at NCI because he had brutally attacked his cellmate on October 6, 2009, while at another prison facility-the MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution (MacDougall).

         During this attack, Giangreco hit his cellmate with the metal legs of Giangreco's wheelchair while the cellmate was sleeping. Afterwards, Giangreco yelled out-apparently to MacDougall staff-“I killed my cellmate and maybe now you would do your jobs.” Doc. #149-1 at 11. The disciplinary hearing notice reports that Giangreco “admitted that [he] wanted to remain on single cell status for the remainder of [his] incarceration by any means necessary including murder.” Doc. #150-3 (Exh. 25).

         Fortunately, Griangreco's cellmate survived this horrible attack, but not without severe injuries requiring hospitalization. Giangreco was placed in Restrictive Housing. It was noted on the DOC's order for this placement that “[t]he inmate's continued presence in the general population poses a serious threat to life, property, self, other inmates . . . .” Doc. #150-3 (Exh. 26). To the same effect, a mental health evaluation of Giangreco from shortly after the MacDougall attack warned that Giangreco “reports [he] will assault if put in w another cellie.” Id. at 14. The warden at MacDougall wrote a letter to another prison official on October 7, 2009, describing Giangreco's attack in detail, noting that Giangreco “intentionally and viciously assaulted his cell partner . . . with a weapon while he was asleep, ” and that “Giangreco has demonstrated that he is a direct threat to the safety and security of the institution, staff, and inmates.” Doc. #150-3 (Exh. 24).

         Notwithstanding these chilling signs, Cahill directed the assignment of Giangreco to live in the same cell with plaintiff on November 4, 2009, just four weeks after Giangreco had nearly murdered his last cellmate. Not surprisingly, another attack very soon followed that day. Giangreco repeatedly and without provocation punched plaintiff, causing him to stumble and hit his head on the cell wall. Giangreco yelled at plaintiff saying that that he was “going to murder [him] the first chance [he] get[s].” Doc. #1 at 7 ¶20.

         As a result of Giangreco's attack, plaintiff sustained injuries including a cracked tooth, cuts inside of his mouth, bruises, and swelling of his face and head. At one point during the time in which they were cellmates, Giangreco also threatened plaintiff, stating that he had just killed his cell partner at MacDougall and intended to kill plaintiff at the first possible moment. Doc. #149-1 at 15.

         Plaintiff wrote complaints that day to both Cahill and Quiros, advising them that Giangreco threatened to “murder me the first chance he gets.” Doc. #150-3 at 37-38. According to plaintiff, Cahill said that plaintiff “must work out [his] difference with Giangreco and no cell partner changes will be made.” Doc. #1 at 8 ¶22.

         On the next day, November 5, Giangreco again attacked plaintiff, this time while plaintiff was using the toilet. As a result of this attack plaintiff sustained injuries to his neck, throat, and back.

         On November 6, Giangreco was moved out of the cell. Later that day, Cahill told plaintiff that “I promise, your next cell partner will be worse.” Id. at 9. Plaintiff then yet again wrote numerous requests and letters to defendants Murphy, Quiros, and Cahill.

         One week later, on November 13, another inmate-Robin Conte-was assigned as plaintiff's new cellmate. Id. From November 13 to 17, plaintiff and Conte were cellmates. Prior to being assigned as plaintiff's cellmate, Conte had been on single-cell status for over thirteen years due to brain injury, extreme violence, and a history of attacking cellmates. Doc. #150-2 at 73. During the four days that Conte and plaintiff were cellmates, Conte repeatedly threatened plaintiff, but there were no physical altercations between the two. Plaintiff complained to Cahill, and Cahill responded by stating that “no cell partner changes are being made.” Doc. #1 at 10.

         Then, on November 17, defendant Angel Quiros-NCI's warden-toured plaintiff's cellblock. Quiros stopped by plaintiff's cell and allegedly threatened him, stating, “I guarantee you I'm gonna make sure you rot and die in here since you want to sue department officials.” Id. Quiros's statement was just one of a series of threatening statements allegedly made to plaintiff by Quiros or Cahill between October 2009 and ...

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