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Gulley v. Hall

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

March 21, 2017

CHAZ O. GULLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
CAPTAIN HALL, et al., Defendants.

          RULING ON MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          Michael P. Shea United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff, Chaz O. Gulley, is currently incarcerated at Northern Correctional Institution, in Somers, Connecticut. He commenced this civil rights action pro se by filing a complaint naming Captain Hall, Correctional Treatment Officer Perry, Nurse Rosalee Walker[1] and Lieutenants Lenny Ogando and Michael Mahoney as defendants. On June 29, 2015, the court dismissed all claims against defendants Hall and Perry pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1) and concluded that the claims of excessive force would proceed against defendants Mahoney, Ogando and Walker in their individual capacities. Defendants Mahoney, Ogando and Walker move for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Standard of Review

         In a motion for summary judgment, the burden is on the moving party to establish that there are no genuine issues of material fact in dispute and that it is “entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Rule 56(a), Fed.R.Civ.P. A fact is “material” if it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law, ” and is “genuine” if “a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party” based on it. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         When a motion for summary judgment is supported by documentary evidence and sworn affidavits and “demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, ” the nonmoving party must do more than vaguely assert the existence of some unspecified disputed material facts or “rely on conclusory allegations or unsubstantiated speculation.” Robinson v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc., 781 F.3d 42, 44 (2d Cir. 2015) (citation omitted). Thus, the party opposing the motion for summary judgment “must come forward with specific evidence demonstrating the existence of a genuine dispute of material fact.” Id.

         In reviewing the record, the court must “construe the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and… draw all reasonable inferences in its favor.” Gary Friedrich Enters., L.L.C. v. Marvel Characters, Inc., 716 F.3d 302, 312 (2d Cir. 2013) (citation omitted). If there is any evidence in the record from which a reasonable factual inference could be drawn in favor of the opposing party on the issue on which summary judgment is sought, however, summary judgment is improper. See Security Ins. Co. of Hartford v. Old Dominion Freight Line Inc., 391 F.3d 77, 83 (2d Cir. 2004).

         Where one party is proceeding pro se, the court reads the pro se party's papers liberally and interprets them “to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest.” Willey v. Kirkpatrick, 801 F.3d 51, 62 (2d Cir. 2015) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Despite this liberal interpretation, however, “[u]nsupported allegations do not create a material issue of fact” and cannot overcome a properly supported motion for summary judgment. See Weinstock v. Columbia Univ., 224 F.3d 33, 41 (2d Cir. 2000), cert. denied, 540 U.S. 811 (2003).

         II. Facts[2]

         On May 5, 2015, the plaintiff was confined with another inmate in Cell H10 at MacDougall Correctional Institution (“MacDougall”). At that time, MacDougall was on a lockdown. Correctional officers had searched the plaintiff's cell and confiscated items of the plaintiff's personal property, including his headphones. The plaintiff had spoken to several prison officials regarding the confiscation of his property, but had been unsuccessful in securing the return of his items.

         On May 6, 2015, the plaintiff learned from Captain Hall that he would not be receiving his headphones back. The plaintiff requested to speak to Captain Black. As he waited for Captain Black to arrive at his cell, the plaintiff began to hit the door of his cell and threw a chair against the door. Lieutenant Mahoney arrived at the plaintiff's cell and talked to the plaintiff regarding the confiscation of his property. When Lieutenant Mahoney left the area of the plaintiff's cell, the plaintiff covered the window of his cell door.

         Captain Hall and Lieutenant Mahoney attempted to verbally persuade the plaintiff to comply with their orders to remove the covering from the window of his cell door. The plaintiff refused to remove the window covering. Lieutenant Mahoney summoned additional correctional staff to come to the plaintiff's cell to attempt to convince him to remove the covering from the window in his cell door. Lieutenants Diaz and Sharp spoke to the plaintiff and attempted to persuade him to remove the window covering, but were unsuccessful. Mental health and medical staff then attempted verbal intervention with the plaintiff, but he refused to take down the covering over the cell window and indicated that he was done with programs and was prepared to go to administrative segregation.

         Lieutenant Mahoney spoke with medical staff to determine whether there were any indications that a chemical agent should not be used on or near the plaintiff. Medical staff stated that there were no indications that a chemical agent could not be used on the plaintiff or the plaintiff's cellmate, even though he had asthma. Medical staff indicated that they would remain in the area of the plaintiff's cell, in case an officer deployed a chemical agent into the cell and the plaintiff's cellmate required immediate medical treatment.

         Lieutenant Mahoney gave the plaintiff a final order to remove the obstruction covering his cell door window, but the plaintiff refused to do so. Lieutenant Mahoney administered a one-second burst of a chemical agent under the cell door. At the same time, Lieutenant Diaz was stationed in an area next to the plaintiff's cell. In that area, Lieutenant Diaz had access to a vent into the plaintiff's cell which was not obstructed. After Lieutenant Mahoney gave a last warning to remove the obstruction over the window in the plaintiff's cell door, Lieutenant Diaz administered a one-second burst of a chemical agent through the vent into the plaintiff's cell.

         Lieutenant Mahoney and other correctional staff, including Captain Black, continued to order the plaintiff to remove the obstruction from the window in his cell door, but the plaintiff refused to do so. Prison staff informed the plaintiff that if he chose not to remove the covering from the window, a staff member would deploy a chemical agent into the cell again. Because the plaintiff refused to remove the obstruction over the window in his cell door, Lieutenant Mahoney administered a second one-second burst of a chemical agent under the cell door. At that same time, Lieutenant Diaz also administered a one-second burst of a chemical agent through the vent into the plaintiff's cell. The plaintiff did not remove the obstruction from his cell window.

         After repeated orders from Captain Black and other prison staff, the plaintiff eventually uncovered the window. After Captain Black learned that the plaintiff's door could not be opened because the plaintiff had wedged material into the door jamb, he made additional verbal efforts to persuade the plaintiff to unwedge the door. The plaintiff refused and covered the window in the cell door again. At that point, after directing the plaintiff to uncover the window, Lieutenant Mahoney administered another one-second burst of a chemical agent under the cell door. Within several minutes, the plaintiff uncovered the window again. A maintenance worker was called to pry the door open because the plaintiff could not or would not remove the material blocking the door jamb.

         After the door had been opened, two correctional personnel entered the plaintiff's cell, handcuffed him and escorted him to the restrictive housing unit under the supervision of Captain Black. Lieutenant Diaz escorted the plaintiff's cellmate out of the cell and over to medical personnel for assessment. Lieutenant Diaz then escorted the plaintiff's cellmate to the medical department. Medical personnel decontaminated the inmate from the residue of the chemical agent, provided him with clean clothes and administered a breathing treatment.

         When the plaintiff reached the restrictive housing unit, officers placed the plaintiff in the shower to decontaminate him from the residue of the chemical agent. The officers then escorted him to Cell 4, strip-searched him and applied in-cell restraints to his ankles, waist and wrists. A medical staff member checked the restraints to ensure that they were not too tight. A mental health staff member assessed the plaintiff and concluded that there were no contraindications to his placement on in-cell restraints.

         On May 7, 2015, the plaintiff remained on in-cell restraints in Cell 4 in the restrictive housing unit. At approximately 10:30 a.m., Lieutenant Ogando arrived at the plaintiff's cell because he had learned that the plaintiff had blocked the window in his cell door. Lieutenant Ogando attempted to convince the plaintiff to remove the covering from the window of the door of his cell. The plaintiff stated that he was protesting because had not been given a shower and had been fed baloney sandwiches, instead of a hot meal. He refused to remove the obstruction from the window in his cell door and stated that he would continue his protest.

         After approximately twenty-five minutes, Lieutenant Ogando issued a final warning to the plaintiff to remove the cell window covering and indicated that he would use a chemical agent if the plaintiff did not comply with his order. The plaintiff did not comply and Lieutenant Ogando administered a one-second burst of a chemical agent through the trap in the cell door. Lieutenant Ogando then directed officers to open the cell door and ordered the plaintiff to remain on his bunk. Lieutenant Ogando and officers entered the cell. The plaintiff was on the floor of the cell. Two officers grabbed the plaintiff under his arms, raised him to his feet and escorted him out of the cell to the shower to be decontaminated from the residue of the chemical agent.

         The same two officers escorted the plaintiff to the medical unit. When the plaintiff arrived at the medical unit, the officers placed the plaintiff in a shower to be decontaminated from the residue of the chemical agent. Lieutenant Ogando issued an order upgrading the plaintiff's restraint status from in-cell restraints to soft, four-point restraints because of the plaintiff's continued disruptive behavior. Officers escorted the plaintiff to Medical Room 6, provided the plaintiff with new clothes and applied soft, four-point restraints to the plaintiff's ankles and wrists as he lay on a bunk in the cell. Lieutenant Ogando supervised the application of restraints.

         After all four restraints had been applied, Lieutenant Ogando and a medical staff member checked the space between the restraints and the plaintiff's ankles and wrists. They both determined that there was ample space. A mental health staff member assessed the plaintiff and concluded that there were no contraindications to his placement on four-point restraints.

         Approximately thirty minutes later, a correctional officer summoned Lieutenant Ogando to the plaintiff's cell in the medical unit because he had managed to slip off one of the wrist restraints. Officers re-attached the wrist restraint, checked the other restraints and applied a stationary strap over the upper part of the plaintiff's legs to restrict his movements. Medical staff and Lieutenant Ogando checked the restraints for sufficient spacing and proper circulation.

         Officers conducted range of motion exercises and restraint checks and readjustments at 1:00 p.m., 2:50 p.m, 3:15 p.m, 4:55 p.m., 6:30 p.m. and 8:50 p.m. At 11:00 p.m., Lieutenant Ogando downgraded the plaintiff to in-cell restraints.

         On May 11, 2015, at approximately 10:30 a.m., the plaintiff was cleared by a mental health clinician to be removed from Behavioral Observation Status. Prison officials transferred him from a cell in the medical unit to Cell 15 in the restrictive housing unit to serve disciplinary sanctions. As soon as officers left him in the cell alone, the plaintiff covered the window in the cell door. He refused initial orders to remove the window covering. After verbal intervention by staff members and the administration of a chemical agent through the trap in the cell door by Lieutenant Mahoney, the plaintiff complied with orders to come to the trap in the cell door to be handcuffed. Two correctional officers and Lieutenant Mahoney eventually escorted the plaintiff to Cell 4 in the restrictive housing unit and placed him on in-cell restraints.

         At approximately 11:30 a.m., an officer observed that the plaintiff had placed a covering over the window in his cell door and summoned Lieutenant Mahoney. Very shortly after his arrival at the plaintiff's cell, Lieutenant Mahoney administered a burst of a chemical agent through the trap in the cell door. Lieutenant Mahoney and two other officers entered the cell. In less than a minute, multiple other officers also entered the cell. Two officers escorted the plaintiff out of the cell to the shower to be decontaminated from the residue of the chemical agent. Those same officers then escorted the plaintiff to the medical unit and placed him in four-point restraints. Additional facts relating to specific claims are included in the discussion below.

         III. Discussion

         Defendants Walker, Mahoney and Ogando assert two arguments in support of their motion for summary judgment. They contend that they did not use excessive force against the plaintiff on May 6, 2015, May 7, 2015, ...


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