United States District Court, D. Connecticut
INITIAL REVIEW ORDER AND RULING ON PLAINTIFF'S
CHARLES S. HAIGHT, JR., SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Courtney Green (“Green”), incarcerated in a
Connecticut prison and appearing pro se, has filed a
Complaint [Doc. 1], an Amended Complaint [Doc. 7], and a
Supplemental Pleading [Doc. 8]. These submissions contain a
number of allegations by Green which assert claims under 42
U.S.C. § 1983 against several state prison officials.
Defendants identified by the initial Complaint are Warden
Antonio Santiago; Deputy Warden Robert Martin; Lieutenant
Bellamere, also identified as John Doe #1; Correctional
Officer Ayote, also identified as John Doe #2; Correctional
Officer Streeter, also identified as John Doe #3; and
Administrative Remedies Coordinator Michelle King, also
identified as Jane Doe.
Amended Complaint adds as Defendants Correctional Officer
Cooley, also identified as John Doe #4; Correctional Officer
Murphy, also identified as John Doe #5; Correctional Officer
Donolfio, also identified as John Doe #6; and Deputy
Commissioner Monica Rinaldi.
Supplemental Pleading seeks to add Counselor Supervisor
Vazquez; Administrative Remedies Coordinator Kimberly Daly;
and District Administrator Peter Murphy as Defendants.
Defendants are named in their individual and official
capacities and were employed at Corrigan-Radgowski
Correctional Institution ("CCI") where Green was
previously an inmate at the time of the allegations.
Ruling begins with, and consists principally of, the
Court's sua sponte review of Green's
pleadings, a review mandated by the Prison Litigation Reform
Act of 1996 ("PLRA"), 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.
INITIAL REVIEW OF THE AMENDED COMPLAINT
U.S.C. § 1915A directs federal district courts to
consider all prisoner civil complaints against governmental
actors, and dismiss any portion of the complaint that
“is frivolous, malicious, or 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(b)(1), (2).
district court's sua sponte dismissal of a
prisoner's complaint under § 1915A is reviewed
de novo by the court of appeals. Larkin v.
Savage, 318 F.3d 138, 139 (2d Cir. 2003). Where the
district court has dismissed for failure to state a claim,
the Second Circuit has said that "we accept all of
plaintiff's factual allegations in the complaint as true
and draw inferences from those allegations in the light most
favorable to the plaintiff. We must reverse a district
court's dismissal pursuant to § 1915A whenever a
liberal reading of the complaint gives any indication that a
valid claim might be stated." Id. (citations
and internal quotation marks omitted).
district court level, the district judge's § 1915A
review of whether a complaint "fails to state a claim
upon which relief can be granted" is guided by the
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, as interpreted by Supreme
Court and Second Circuit decisions whose principles have
become familiar. A pro se complaint is adequately
pled if its allegations, liberally construed, could
“conceivably give rise to a viable claim.”
Phillips v. Girdich, 408 F.3d 124, 130 (2d Cir.
2005). The Court must accept as true all well-pleaded and
non-conclusory factual matters alleged in a complaint,
although a complaint may not survive unless its factual
recitations "'state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face.'" See, e.g., Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell
Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007));
Mastafa v. Chevron Corp., 770 F.3d 170, 177 (2d Cir.
2014) (same). Nevertheless, it is well-established that
“[p]ro se complaints ‘must be construed
liberally and interpreted to raise the strongest arguments
that they suggest.'” Sykes v. Bank of Am.,
723 F.3d 399, 403 (2d Cir. 2013) (quoting Triestman v.
Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 474 (2d Cir.
2006)); see also Tracy v. Freshwater, 623 F.3d 90,
101-02 (2d Cir. 2010) (discussing special rules of solicitude
for pro se litigants). And in Larkin, in
the § 1915A context, the Second Circuit took care to
cite approvingly and quote from Desiderio v. Nat'l
Ass'n of Sec. Dealers, Inc., 191 F.3d 198, 202 (2d
Cir. 1999) that: "We will not affirm the dismissal of a
complaint unless it appears beyond doubt, even when the
complaint is liberally construed, that the plaintiff can
prove no set of facts that would entitle him to relief."
Larkin, 318 F.3d at 139.
Court will apply these standards in conducting its initial
review of any claims asserted by Green. The Court begins with
a recitation of the factual allegations contained in these
Amended Complaint [Doc. 7], filed on January 22, 2016, is the
operative Complaint considered by this Initial Review
Order. The factual allegations contained in this
pleading are recounted herein, recited in the light most
favorable to Green. They describe four separate strip
searches conducted by officers of CCI when Green was
Count One - August 2015 Search
August 27, 2015, during an "institutional facility
shakedown, " Green was ordered to the gym with the other
inmates in his housing unit, specifically the top tier of
that unit. Am. Cmplt., Count One ¶ 1. Green was
initially ordered to step out of his cell and was "pat
searched, " id., then directed to the lower
sallyport, aligned with other inmates by cell number, and
moved to the gym escorted by Captain Griffin. The inmates
were informed that their cooperation was expected as there
was a facility emergency and that inmates who did not
cooperate would be sent to the restrictive housing unit.
Defendant Bellamere supervised the inmates and the subsequent
correctional officers began to strip search the inmates two
at a time in two bathroom stalls. This process was slow and
to expedite the process, Defendant Ayote ordered Green and
two other inmates into an adjacent room with windows and a
wall-mounted camera to be strip searched. The windows and
lack of dividers permitted other inmates and officers to view
the search. Green complained about the arrangement to
Defendant Streeter, who told Green that he would be sent to
restrictive housing if he failed to comply with the search.
Green noted that another inmate in the room only a few feet
away and several inmates seated on the bleachers in the gym
looked at his buttocks and genitals. Defendant Bellamere was
standing at the entrance of the gym and fully aware of the
actions of Defendants Ayote and Streeter, and Defendant
Bellamere failed to supervise the searches conducted by
Defendants Ayote and Streeter.
the searches were completed, Green and the other inmates were
seated on the bleachers when Defendant Martin and Captain
Williams came into the gym. Inmates then asked about their
ability to take showers. At this time, Green complained about
the manner in which the search was conducted to Defendant
Martin, who initially responded with indifference, stating
that when he was in the military he had to shower with and in
front of other men. He later agreed with Green and assured
the Green that these searches would not happen again.
following day, Green wrote to Defendant Santiago about the
search. He did not receive a response and considered that to
violate Administrative Directive 9.6. Green then filed a
grievance, which was returned to Green signed by Defendant
King, with the designation "compromised, "
signifying that the complaint had sufficient merit to warrant
the modification of an existing decision. Green did not
participate in the modification of any search procedures, and
the search caused him a great deal of emotional distress,
given the facts that other inmates witnessed it and it was
recorded on camera. Green alleges that Defendant Santiago did
not comply with the Prison Rape Elimination Act and failed to
prevent these types of incidents from occurring.
Count Two - October 2015 Search
October 22, 2015 at 3:45 a.m., Green alleges that he was
notified by the unit officer that he had to report to the
admitting and processing area for a court transfer. He
proceeded to the area and arrived there around 4:00 a.m.
Defendant Cooley then requested that he enter the strip room,
but a noise from outside disrupted the strip search.
Defendant Cooley instructed Green not to strip, went to check
on the noise and returned with three other inmates who were
also going to court. Defendant Cooley requested that they
also enter the strip room and be searched at the same time as
Green. Green expressed his displeasure to Defendant Cooley at
being exposed to a room of strangers within an arms length
distance of each other in a "very confined room,
designed to strip one individual at a time." Am. Cmplt.,
Count Two ¶ 5. Defendant Cooley ordered Green to strip
in front of the three other inmates. After the incident,
Green wrote to Defendant Martin and never received a response
from Defendant Martin. Green exhausted his administrative
remedies and received a returned grievance from Defendant
King on December 4, 2015, which expressed that the
disposition was "compromised, " again meaning that
some modification of the existing decision regarding the
search was warranted.
Count Three - November 2015 Search
November 5, 2015, Green returned to CCI at about 8:00 p.m.
from a court transfer and was placed in a holding cell with
seven other inmates who were waiting to be readmitted and
processed. Defendant Murphy requested that four inmates,
including Green, follow him to the strip room. Once there
Defendant Murphy requested that all four inmates strip; Green
complied with the order. Defendant Murphy also directed Green
to open his mouth, raise his hands, and bend at the waist so
that his buttocks could be checked; Green complied with his
orders in full view of the other three inmates in a room
designed for the search of one individual at a time. Green
wrote to Defendant Martin about the search and Defendant
Martin did not respond, which prompted Green to write to
Defendant Rinaldi on November 13, 2015 explaining the
searches he had been subject to and how Defendants Martin and
Santiago had not intervened. On November 23, 2015, Defendant
Rinaldi responded to Green and on November 24, 2015,
Defendant Martin also wrote to Green. Green exhausted his
administrative remedies and Defendant King explained that she
concurred with Defendant Martin and that corrective action
was taken. Green was not allowed to participate in the
resolution of his grievance.
Count Four - December 2015 Search
about December 2, 2015, at approximately 9:00 a.m. during a
"matrix shakedown" in his unit, Green and his
cellmate were ordered to stand up by Defendant Donolfio. Am.
Cmplt., Count Four ¶ 1. Green faced Defendant Donolfio
while his cellmate faced the window. Defendant Donolfio
ordered Green to strip; Green requested that he do so
privately without his cellmate there but Defendant Donolfio
refused Green's request. Green expressed concern that his
cellmate could see his body through a reflection of the
window, which had a white film on it to prevent the inmates
from seeing outside. However, Green complied with the orders.
Green complained again to Defendant Martin and never received
a response. Green exhausted his administrative remedies and
the grievance was disposed of as "compromised."
Defendant Martin notified Green in mid-December 2015 that his
request to preserve video from all four incidents "has
been completed as requested by the plaintiff." Am.
Cmplt., Count Four ¶ 9.
contends that Defendants have violated his Fourth, Eighth and
Fourteenth Amendment rights and have not complied with
Administrative and Unit Directives. Green also references the
Prison Rape Elimination Act in his Amended Complaint.
Sovereign Immunity for Official Capacity
has named all Defendants in their individual and official
capacities, but he seeks only money damages. The Eleventh
Amendment divests the Court of subject matter jurisdiction
over any claims for monetary damages against a state official
acting in his official capacity unless the state has waived
this immunity or Congress has abrogated it. Kentucky v.
Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 169 (1985). Section 1983 does not
abrogate state sovereign immunity. Id. at 169 n.17;
see also Quern v. Jordan, 440 U.S. 332, 341-45
(1979). Nor has Green alleged any facts suggesting that
Connecticut has waived this immunity.
any and all claims against the Defendants in their official
capacities are dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
1915A(b)(1), (2). See Al-Bukhari v. Dep't of
Corr., No. 16-205, 2016 WL 730703, at *3 (D. Conn. Feb.
23, 2016) (dismissing claims against an individual in his
official capacity based on sovereign immunity).
Section 1983 Claims Against Defendants in Their
also asserts each of these § 1983 claims against all
Defendants in their individual capacities, again, seeking
only monetary damages. Specifically, Green alleges that each
of the four searches violated his Fourth Amendment right to
be free from unreasonable searches; his Eighth Amendment
right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment; and his
Fourteenth Amendment due process and equal protection rights
as well as violations of certain administrative policies and
directives. The Court will address each of Green's claims
Fourth Amendment Claims
argues that the searches violated the Fourth Amendment which,
in the prison context, proscribes unreasonable searches.
See Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 558 (1979). The
Fourth Amendment "'protects individual privacy
against certain kinds of governmental intrusion' . . .
and it is well-established that its protections extend to
prisoners." Holland v. City of New York, No.
14-5517, -- F.3d --, 2016 WL 3636249, at *7 (S.D.N.Y. June
24, 2016) (quoting Katz v. United States, 389 U.S.
347, 350 (1967)). "The test of reasonableness under the
Fourth Amendment is not capable of precise definition or
mechanical application" and each case "requires a
balancing of the need for the particular search against the
invasion of personal rights that the search entails."
Bell, 441 U.S. at 559. Courts must consider the
scope of the particular intrusion, the manner in which the
search is conducted, the justification for initiating it, and
the place in which it is conducted. Id.; see
also Harris v. Miller, 818 F.3d 49, 63 (2d Cir. 2016)
(reiterating that courts must evaluate searches of inmates
under the four Bell criteria). Moreover, in
Bell, the Supreme Court reiterated that "[t]he
searches must be conducted in a reasonable manner." 441
U.S. at 560.
Second Circuit recognizes that inmates retain a "limited
right to bodily privacy, " and "'[a] strip
search that involves a stranger peering without consent at a
naked individual, and in particular at the most private
portions of that person's body is a serious invasion of
privacy, '" Harris 818 F.3d at 58 (quoting
Florence v. Bd. of Chosen Freeholders, 132 S.Ct.
1510, 1526 (2012) (Breyer, J., dissenting)). Courts have
nevertheless upheld strip-searches as reasonable security
measures even when probable cause for the searches was absent
as long as the searches were related to legitimate
penological or security interests. See, e.g.,
Florence, 132 S.Ct. at 1514, 1523 (upholding a
strip-search procedure applied during intake process at
prison facility to detainee arrested for minor offense was
reasonably related to need of the prison facility to maintain
security and did not violate Fourth or Fourteenth
Amendments); Bell, 441 U.S. at 558-60 (holding
visual strip-searches of inmates' body cavities after
contact visits with person from outside facility to be
reasonable in light of the “serious security
dangers” in prison, together with the “common . .
. occurrence” of the “[s]muggling of money,
drugs, weapons, and other contraband”). Importantly,
"in the absence of substantial evidence in the record to
indicate that the officials have exaggerated their response
to these considerations courts should ordinarily defer to
their expert judgment in such matters."
Florence, 132 S.Ct. at 1517 (internal quotation
marks and citations omitted).
district courts in this Circuit have held that accusations of
humiliation and embarrassment caused by strip searches, on
their own, do not state a claim under the Fourth Amendment,
specifically recognizing that "neither the presence of
cameras nor the presence of other inmates and employees of a
correctional facility makes an otherwise constitutional strip
search unconstitutional." Smith v. City of New
York, No. 14-5934, 2015 WL 3929621, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. June
17, 2015) (collecting cases); see also Dixon v.
Santiago, No. 15-1575, 2015 WL 9582729, at *2-3 (D.
Conn. Dec. 30, 2015) (collecting cases). Courts have
repeatedly "acknowledged the degree to which strip
searches may humiliate and 'invade the personal privacy
of inmates, ' and nonetheless upheld the use of strip
searches where they further the legitimate interest of
discovering contraband." Walker v. Ponte, No.
14-8507, 2016 WL 4411415, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 18, 2016)
(quoting Bell, 441 U.S. at 560). A plaintiff must
allege facts that suggest these searches did not serve any
legitimate penological purposes, or that each search was
specifically "designed to intimidate, harass or
punish." See Davila v. Messier, No. 13-81, 2014
WL 4638854, at * 6 (D. Conn. Sept. 17, 2014); see also
Jean-Laurent v. Wilkerson, 438 F.Supp.2d 318, 323
(S.D.N.Y. 2006), aff'd 346 F.App'x 18 (2d
Cir. 2002). For example, when two strip searches are
conducted close in time and the inmate had no opportunity to
obtain contraband after the first search, then the second
strip search may be unreasonable and unconstitutional because
the inmate lacked an opportunity to obtain contraband in the
time in between the searches. See Hodges v. Stanley,
712 F.2d 34, 35-36 (2d Cir. 1983); Jean-Laurent, 438
F.Supp.2d at 323.
decisions do not alter the Court's principle expressed in
Bell that the manner in which the search is
conducted must still be reasonable. Bell, 441 U.S.
at 560; see also Murray v. Bushey, No. 04-00805,
2009 WL 498144, at *5 (N.D.N.Y. Feb. 26, 2009) (holding that
plaintiff stated a Fourth Amendment claim despite the
legitimate penological goal evident from his complaint
because the search was conducted in an "unreasonable
manner" as it was conducted without permission from a
higher ranking officer, in front of other inmates, and under
filthy conditions). Florence reiterates the
principle that where there is substantial evidence that
officials have exaggerated a response to a legitimate
penological concern and their "policies are an
unnecessary or unjustified response to problems of jail
security, " the search may be unreasonable despite its
initial justification. 132 S.Ct. at 1514, 1517. Thus the
simple recitation that a search had a penological
justification, even if accurate, does not end a court's
inquiry in all instances. See, e.g., Williams v.
City of Cleveland, 771 F.3d 945, 951-52 (6th Cir. 2014).
Notwithstanding that justification, if the search is
conducted in a particularly invasive or unnecessarily
humiliating manner it may be condemned as unreasonable, in
the totality of the circumstances.
has made sufficient allegations that the officials may have
exaggerated their response to legitimate security and
penological concerns with respect to three of the four
searches described in his Amended Complaint. These three
searches, at least as conducted in the manner alleged by
Green, may have been conducted in a manner designed to
intimidate, harass or punish Green and conducted in an
unreasonable manner in light of each situation. As such, the
Court concludes that, at least at this preliminary stage,
Green has stated a valid § 1983 claim based on the
violation of his Fourth Amendment rights by the first,
second, and third searches. See Bell, 441 U.S. at
559-60; Murray, 2009 WL 498144, at *5.
regard to the first search, Green alleges that he was
"pat searched" and then directed to the gym where
the strip searches occurred. It appears that he was under
constant supervision and guard while being transported to the
gym. Although the searches were conducted in the midst of an
"emergency" according to Green's Amended
Complaint, the penological justification for the second full
strip search may have lessened by the time it was conducted
in light of the fact that an earlier, close in time, pat
search had already been conducted. See Hodges, 712
F.2d at 35-36; Jean-Laurent, 438 F.Supp.2d at 323.
Moreover, the manner in which the strip search was conducted
may have been wholly unreasonable. Green alleges that other
inmates were searched in private bathroom stalls, but to
"speed up the strip process" he and other inmates
were ordered to a large room with no dividers or partitions
to be strip searched in full view of other inmates, officers,
and cameras. The strip search was conducted within a few feet
of another inmate who stared at Green's genitalia. It is
also unclear from Green's complaint that the emergency
required taking this additional step. This search, as alleged
by Green, could be unreasonable. See Bell, 441 U.S.
at 559- 60; Murray, 2009 WL 498144, at *5.
second search, as alleged by Green, occurred prior to a court
transfer, taking place in a room designed to strip one
individual at a time and with three other inmates and
Defendant Cooley present. Green alleges that he was an
"arms length" distance from the other inmates and
that he was singled out by Defendant Cooley after he
complained about the manner of the search.
Green alleges regarding the third search, that he and three
other inmates were singled out of a group of inmates
returning from court by Defendant Murphy for a group strip
search. The search occurred again in a room designed for the
search of one individual at a time and Green was singled out
for a search of his buttocks in front of the other three
inmates. Although searches prior to and after a court
transfer may be justified in the search for contraband,
see Smith, 2015 WL 3929621, at *2 (recognizing that
searches conducted after a contact visit or prior to
transport away from the facility are "situations where
the legitimate purpose of preventing the import or export of
contraband is clear"), the manner in which both of these
searches were conducted could be unreasonable designed to
intimidate, harass or punish, and thus, the search could be a
violation of Green's Fourth Amendment rights. See
Bell, 441 U.S. at 559-60; Murray, 2009 WL
498144, at *5. Finally, with regard to the fourth search, it
is well-settled that it is reasonable for a correctional
facility to conduct random searches of inmates' cells and
persons. See Israel v. City of New York, No.
11-7726, 2012 WL 4762082, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 5, 2012)
("The Supreme Court has held that 'random searches
are essential to the effective security of penal
institutions.'" (quoting Hudson v. Palmer,
468 U.S. 517, 529 (1984))); see also Castro-Sanchez v.
N.Y. State Dep't of Corr. Servs., No. 10-8314, 2011
WL 6057837, at *8-9 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 6, 2011) ("Routine
random strip searches of inmates, including body cavity
inspections, do not violate the Fourth Amendment.").
Green has not alleged that he was singled out in any manner
as part of the search (in fact he pleads that Defendant
Donolfio's order was that "one of the two
occupants" should stand up and the other should face the
window), that his cellmate actually viewed him during the
strip search, or that the space he was strip searched in was
confined or too small for the search. Green has only alleged
that it was possible for his cellmate to view him, but at
best, his cellmate viewed him indirectly through a reflection
on a window, which had a white film on it preventing the
inmates from viewing the outside. Green's cellmate was
not facing him during the search and only Defendant Donolfio
conducted the search. The search appears, as alleged, to be
reasonably tied to furthering Defendant Donolfio's
interests in finding contraband and, unlike the other three
searches, the manner in which it was conducted furthered that
interest and cannot be said to be unreasonable or exaggerated
based on Green's allegations and the manner in which it
Court emphasizes that the Fourth Amendment protects against
unreasonable searches and seizures and at this
particular initial review stage it is unclear to the Court
why Green must be subject to these types of strip searches if
it was easily possible and practicable for Defendants to
avoid these types of situations. See Dixon, 2015 WL
9582729, at *3 (allowing claims for injunctive and
declaratory relief to go forward recognizing that strip
searches in the view of or presence of others may be
unconstitutional); see also Williams, 771 F.3d at
954 ("To state a claim, plaintiffs were required only to
allege-rather than demonstrate-that the jail acted
unreasonably."). It is well-recognized that strip
searches are "'a serious invasion of privacy,
'" Harris v. Miller, 818 F.3d at 58
(quoting Florence v., 132 S.Ct. at 1526 (Breyer, J.,
dissenting)), and such an invasion must be balanced against
each of the Bell factors in determining whether the
search is reasonable, see id. at 62-63. Because the
manner in which these searches were conducted, as alleged by
Green, was not justifiable and may have been an exaggerated
response or intentional misconduct by Defendants, Green has
stated a viable Fourth Amendment claim as to the first three
searches. The Court recognizes that humiliation on
its own, from the presence of inmates, correction officers or
cameras, has been characterized by other ...