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Atkinson v. Rinaldi

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

December 14, 2016



          Dominic J. Squatrito United States District Judge

         The plaintiff, Eric Atkinson, who is currently incarcerated at the Cheshire Correctional Institution, commenced this civil rights action against various medical staff members and correctional officers at the Bridgeport Correctional Center (“BCC”) in their individual and official capacities. He asserted claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (“Section 1983”) for denial of rights protected by the Fourth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. The remaining defendants, Monica Rinaldi, Karl Lewis, Anne Cournoyer, Jacklyn Bachan, Carl Lovisolo and Lynn Milling, have filed a motion for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, the defendants' motion is granted.

         I. Standard of Review

         A motion for summary judgment may be granted only where there are no issues of material fact in dispute 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). He must present such evidence as would allow a reasonable jury to find in his favor in order to defeat the motion for summary judgment. Graham v. Long Island R.R., 230 F.3d 34, 38 (2d Cir. 2000). The nonmoving party “must offer some hard evidence showing that its version of the events is not wholly fanciful.” D'Amico v. City of New York, 132 F.3d 145, 149 (2d Cir. 1998). Unsupported allegations do not create a material issue of fact to defeat a motion for summary judgment. See Weinstock v. Columbia University, 224 F.3d 33, 41 (2d Cir. 2000). The Court must view all inferences and ambiguities in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See Bryant v. Maffucci, 923 F.2d 979, 982 (2d Cir.1991). “Only when reasonable minds could not differ as to the import of the evidence is summary judgment proper.” Id.

         II. Facts

         The plaintiff is a sentenced inmate in the custody of the Connecticut Department of Correction. He is serving a five-year sentence for criminal possession of a pistol/revolver. On March 25, 2014, the plaintiff was housed in cell A-5-10 in the Restrictive Housing Unit at BCC. The plaintiff had been placed in restrictive housing because he received seven disciplinary reports while confined at BCC. The disciplinary reports included charges for threatening staff, fighting, and interfering with safety and security. Before coming to BCC, the plaintiff was housed at the New Haven Correctional Institution and the Corrigan Correctional Institution where he received disciplinary reports for threatening staff, disobeying direct orders, and endangering safety and security.

         On March 25, 2014, defendant Lovisolo was in the restrictive housing unit at BCC supervising officers who were placing other inmates in restrictive housing. While doing so, Lovisolo observed the plaintiff screaming derogatory remarks at Correctional Head Nurse Steelman. Defendant Lovisolo approached the plaintiff, who was in his cell with the door closed. Defendant Lovisolo could see the plaintiff through the cell door window, which is made of Plexiglas with perforations to permit sound and air to pass through.

         Defendant Lovisolo told the plaintiff to stop yelling derogatory remarks at Nurse Steelman. The plaintiff refused to stop and used profanity against defendant Lovisolo. He stated that he had already received 266 disciplinary reports. Defendant Lovisolo states that the plaintiff spit at him and that some of the saliva passed through the holes in the window and struck defendant Lovisolo on the lower jaw, neck and shirt. The plaintiff denies spitting at defendant Lovisolo and contends that saliva cannot pass through the holes in the Plexiglas window.[1]Defendant Lovisolo stepped away from the plaintiff's cell and continued to supervise the restrictive housing placements. He reported the incident to his supervisor, Captain Melms. Defendant Lovisolo told Captain Melms that he wanted to file a police report and press criminal charges against the plaintiff for assault.

         At approximately 10:00 a.m., Correctional Officer Lopez delivered a disciplinary report to the plaintiff. The charge was assault on a correctional employee, a Class A disciplinary offense. At approximately 11:00 a.m., Connecticut State Trooper Slaiby arrived at BCC in response to the reported assault. Defendant Lovisolo told Trooper Slaiby that the plaintiff had spit in his face and provided a sworn statement reciting his version of events.

         Trooper Slaiby spoke to Nurse Steelman about the incident. Nurse Steelman also provided a sworn statement indicating that she was checking the wrists of inmates who had just been placed in restrictive housing when the plaintiff began yelling derogatory remarks about her and stating that he would “get” her. Nurse Steelman stated that the plaintiff yelled the remarks over fifteen times and indicated that she felt threatened. Nurse Steelman stated that she ignored the remarks and kept working. When the plaintiff continued yelling at her, defendant Lovisolo moved closer to Nurse Steelman and in front of the plaintiff's cell. Nurse Steelman stated that, while she was performing a handcuff check, she heard someone spitting. Although she did not see who was spitting, she knew that the sound came from the plaintiff's cell. After she heard the noise, defendant Lovisolo stated that the plaintiff had spit at him. The plaintiff continued to yell derogatory remarks at Nurse Steelman and defendant Lovisolo.

         Trooper Slaiby attempted to interview the plaintiff as part of his investigation. The plaintiff refused to speak to or look at Trooper Slaiby. The plaintiff also refused to sign a notice of rights form or be fingerprinted. The plaintiff was escorted back to his cell in the restrictive housing unit. Based on the information learned through his investigation, Trooper Slaiby charged the plaintiff with the crimes of assault on safety personnel and refusing to be fingrprinted. The plaintiff was held on a $5, 000 bond on these charges. Captain Melms told Trooper Slaiby that the plaintiff also was being held on other bonds totaling over $300, 000 for other pending criminal matters. The case was marked closed by arrest.

         In the aftermath of this incident, Deputy Warden Jones recommended that the plaintiff be reviewed for placement on Administrative Segregation Status and transferred to Northern Correctional Institution. The plaintiff had two prior placements on Administrative Segregation Status during which he received 226 disciplinary reports including sixteen for assault on correctional employees. On March 25, 2014, the plaintiff was transferred to Northern Correctional Institution.

         On March 31, 2014, the plaintiff received a Notification of Hearing form, dated March 28, 2014, informing him that a classification hearing would be held on April 3, 2014. The purpose of the hearing was to consider his placement on Administrative Segregation Status. The notice indicated that the plaintiff could choose an advocate and submit witness statements. The plaintiff declined witnesses but provided a list of advocates. Correctional Counselor Mortimer, the second name on the plaintiff's list, was assigned as his advocate. The hearing resulted in a recommendation of placement on restrictive status for the reasons that the plaintiff “intentionally spit on a staff member . . . [and] has also accumulated 267 disciplinary reports.” (Doc. # 87-14, at 2).

         On April 7, 2014, Director of Offender Classification and Population Management Lewis authorized the recommended placement of the plaintiff on Administrative Segregation Status. When he was told that his placement had been approved, the plaintiff stated that he was not worried. He had completed the Administrative Segregation Program twice before and would do it again.

         Defendant Lynn Milling was not involved in the plaintiff's placement on Administrative Segregation Status in 2014 or at any time thereafter. Defendant Monica Rinaldi also was not involved in the plaintiff's placement on Administrative Segregation Status in 2014 or at any time thereafter.

         On May 7, 2014, the plaintiff attended a hearing on the disciplinary charge for assault on staff. The plaintiff provided a written statement and identified inmates Nau, Demo and Binnette as witnesses for the disciplinary hearing. At the conclusion of the hearing, the charges were dismissed for the following stated reasons: (1) “failed to be disposed [of] prior to [the] end of continuance dates[2], ” and (2) “issuing facility failed to provide . . . any documentation not authored by [the] reporting employee.” (Doc. # 87-18, at 3).

         The plaintiff appealed his placement on Administrative Segregation Status, but that appeal was denied for the reason that “[t]he current incarceration behavior you have demonstrated since your admission is a valid rationale for placement . . . . Since August 29, 2013, you were found guilty in violating the Code of Penal Discipline on 19 occasions. As such the compilations of all of your actions were taken into account during your hearing and the Administrative Segregation placement is warranted.” (Doc. # 87-20, at 2). On May 21, 2014, the plaintiff was informed that his appeal had been denied.

         On July 1, 2014, the criminal charges for assault and failure to submit fingerprints were nolled by the Honorable Robert Devlin of the Connecticut Superior Court. The charges were nolled because, on May 26, 2014, the plaintiff had been sentenced in a different criminal proceeding to twelve years imprisonment, execution suspended after five years, with three years of probation.

         The plaintiff remained in Administrative Segregation at the time he filed this action in June 2015. Since May 1, 2014, the plaintiff has received over 115 disciplinary reports for offenses including threats, assault on staff, interfering with safety and security, insulting language and disobeying a direct order.

         III. Discussion

         The defendants move for summary judgment on eight grounds: (1) any official capacity claims against the defendants are barred by the Eleventh Amendment; (2) defendants Lovisolo and Lewis were the only defendants personally involved in the incidents giving rise to the plaintiff's complaint; (3) the plaintiff's Fourth Amendment rights were not violated; (4) the plaintiff's due process rights were not violated; (5) the plaintiff's Eighth Amendment rights were not violated; (6) the plaintiff's right to equal protection was not violated; (7) the plaintiff's conspiracy claim lacks merit; and (8) the defendants are protected by qualified immunity. The plaintiff's memorandum in opposition to the motion for summary judgment asserts arguments to support what he considers the four remaining arguments in the amended complaint - - violation of rights under the Fourth and Eighth Amendments and the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment - - but fails to address several of the arguments raised by the defendants.

         A. Official ...

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