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Walker v. Kendricks

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

December 28, 2016

LINDA P. KENDRICKS, et al ., Defendants.


          Jeffrey Alker Meyer United States District Judge

         Pro se plaintiff Daryl Dee Walker brings this complaint against several correctional officers on grounds that he was wrongly subject to disciplinary segregation, to a transfer between prison facilities, and to humiliating visual body-cavity searches. He asserts constitutional violations pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against five defendants: Second Chance Program Manager Linda P. Kendricks, Captain Pittman, Lieutenant Ayala, and Lieutenants John Doe 1 and John Doe 2. Based on my initial review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, I conclude that plaintiff has not alleged a violation of any constitutional right for which the defendants would not have qualified immunity, and therefore I will dismiss the complaint.


         The following facts as alleged in the complaint are accepted as true for purposes of this ruling. On December 16, 2015, at Willard-Cybulski Correctional Institution, plaintiff was “apprehended out[side] of E. Dorm by DOC staff.” Doc. #1, ¶ 1. Lieutenant John Doe 1 handcuffed plaintiff, escorted him to a holding cell in the admitting and processing area, and performed a visual body-cavity search on him in front of a camera and multiple Department of Corrections staff. Doc. #1, ¶¶ 1-5. Plaintiff “fear[ed] for [his] life, feeling humiliated and sexually violated.” Doc. #1, ¶ 8. Staff ordered plaintiff to put on a red jumpsuit, indicating that he would be sent to segregation. Doc. #1, ¶ 9. Though he twice asked Lieutenant John Doe 1 what he had done to merit a visual body-cavity search, Lieutenant John Doe 1 did not respond. Doc. #1, ¶¶ 2, 10. When plaintiff asked Second Chance Program Manager Linda P. Kendricks why he was going to segregation, he received an insulting but not pertinent response. Doc. #1, ¶ 11. He asked Captain Pittman and Lieutenant Ayala why he was going to segregation; neither defendant knew why. Doc. #1, ¶¶ 12, 13.

         While plaintiff was in a holding cell in anticipation of his transfer, DOC staff brought another inmate in who was also to be transferred to segregation. As they were being transferred, plaintiff asked another correctional officer why he was going to segregation, and the officer replied that he was being transferred pending the results of a lab test. Doc. #1, ¶ 16. Plaintiff protested that he had neither been issued a disciplinary report nor undergone a lab test, but plaintiff was transferred nonetheless. Doc. #1, ¶¶ 17-18. He raised the same protest to Lieutenant John Doe 2, to no avail. Doc. #1, ¶¶ 21-22.

         After he arrived at Osborn Correctional Institution (“Osborn”) to be placed in segregation, he questioned each officer he encountered why he had been transferred in light of the fact that he had neither been issued a disciplinary report nor undergone a lab test. One officer made a phone call to investigate plaintiffs claim, but the answer was the same: plaintiff was to be transferred pending the results of a lab test. Doc. #1, ¶¶ 25-27. At Osborn, plaintiff was again subject to a visual body-cavity search in front of a camera and multiple DOC staff. Doc. #1, ¶ 30. After plaintiff was placed in his cell, several officers indicated that they would “look into” why plaintiff had been transferred pending the results of a lab test if he had not, in fact, taken a lab test. The next day, plaintiff was issued a Restrictive Housing Unit Status Order for Administrative Detention, though he still had not received a disciplinary report. Doc. #1, ¶ 40. Plaintiff remained in the restrictive housing unit until December 23, 2015, when staff transferred him back to general population. According to plaintiff, “I was placed in Osborn CI population without any due process of law nor any sanctions, ” and “[t]hus, clearly violating my clearly established Eighth Amendment and 14th Amendment [rights].” Doc. #1, ¶ 46. Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages.


         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b), the Court must review prisoner civil complaints against governmental actors and “dismiss . . . any portion of [a] 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.” Id. The allegations of a pro se plaintiff's complaint must be read liberally to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest. See Tracy v. Freshwater, 623 F.3d 90, 101-02 (2d Cir. 2010) (discussing special rules of solicitude for pro se litigants).

         In recent years, the Supreme Court has set forth a threshold “plausibility” pleading standard for courts to evaluate the adequacy of federal court complaints. A complaint must allege enough facts-as distinct from legal conclusions-that give rise to plausible grounds for relief. See, e.g., Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). Notwithstanding the rule of liberal interpretation of a pro se complaint, a pro se complaint may not survive dismissal if its factual allegations do not meet the basic plausibility standard. See, e.g., Fowlkes v. Ironworkers Local 40, 790 F.3d 378, 387 (2d Cir. 2015).

         Even assuming a prisoner's complaint alleges facts that plausibly establish a violation of the prisoner's constitutional rights, not every violation of the Constitution may justify an award of money damages against a correctional official. That is because the doctrine of qualified immunity protects government officials “from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982); see also Carroll v. Carman, 135 S.Ct. 348, 351 (2014). As the Supreme Court has explained, “a defendant cannot be said to have violated a clearly established right unless the right's contours were sufficiently definite that any reasonable official in the defendant's shoes would have understood that he was violating it.” Plumhoff v. Richard, 134 S.Ct. 2012, 2023 (2014).

         Restrictive Confinement and Transfer to New Prison Facility

         Plaintiff alleges that his due process rights were violated when he was subject to administrative segregation and a transfer to a different prison facility without just cause. The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that a State shall not “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” U.S. Const., Amdt. 14, § 1. The “standard analysis” for a claim of a violation of procedural due process “proceeds in two steps: We first ask whether there exists a liberty or property interest of which a person has been deprived, and if so we ask whether the procedures followed by the State were constitutionally sufficient.” Swarthout v. Cooke, 562 U.S. 216, 219 (2011) (per curiam).[1]

         In the prison context (involving someone whose liberty interests have already been severely restricted because of his or her confinement in a prison), a prisoner plaintiff must show that he was subject to an “atypical and significant hardship . . . in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life.” Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 484 (1995). In Sandin, the Supreme Court concluded that a prisoner who was subject to a disciplinary term of 30 days confinement in restrictive housing did not sustain a deprivation of a liberty interest that was subject to protection under the Due Process Clause. Id. at 486.

         Following Sandin, the Second Circuit has explained that the “factors relevant to determining whether the plaintiff endured an atypical and significant hardship include the extent to which the conditions of the disciplinary segregation differ from other routine prison conditions and the duration of the disciplinary segregation imposed compared to discretionary confinement.” Palmer v. Richards, 364 F.3d 60, 64 (2d Cir. 2004). The Second Circuit has further stated that “we have affirmed dismissal of due process claims only in cases where the period of time spent in SHU [special housing unit] was exceedingly short-less than the 30 days that the Sandin plaintiff spent in SHU-and there was no indication that the plaintiff endured unusual SHU conditions.” ...

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