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Morgan v. Dzurenda

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

March 31, 2017

COMM'R JAMES E. DZURENDA, et al., Defendants.


          Victor A. Bolden United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff, Lloyd George Morgan, is currently incarcerated at Garner Correctional Institution, in Newtown, Connecticut (“Garner”). He initiated this action by filing a Complaint alleging various claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (“Section 1983”) and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). His Complaint, ECF No.1, named twenty-one officials or officers employed by the State of Connecticut Department of Correction as Defendants.

         In an Initial Review Order dated November 21, 2014, the Court dismissed Morgan's Section 1983 claims alleging violations of the Fifth, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment, as well as the ADA claims against all Defendants and the prison transfer claims against Defendants Semple and Lewis under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1). See Initial Review Order at 12, ECF No. 11. The Court also dismissed the claims for monetary damages against all Defendants in their official capacities under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(2). See Id. The Court concluded that the Eighth Amendment claims of failure to protect and deliberate indifference to safety, the First Amendment retaliation claims and the state law claims of negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress would proceed against Defendants Commissioner James E. Dzurenda; Deputy Commissioner Scott S. Semple; District Administrator Angel Quiros; Director of Offender Classification Karl Lewis; Wardens Carol Chapdelaine, Edward Maldonado and Christine M. Whidden; Deputy Wardens Gary Wright and Sandra Barone; Captains McCormick and K. Godding; Unit Managers Manning and Jean Ott; Lieutenant Lizon; and Correctional Officers Maldonado, Lindsey, Clayton, Torres, Gonzalez, Leiper and Ulm in their individual capacities, and in their official capacities, but only to the extent that Mr. Morgan sought declaratory and injunctive relief. See id.

         On September 29, 2015, the Court denied in part and granted in part the Defendants' motion to dismiss. ECF No. 53. The following claims remain pending against the Defendants in their individual capacities: (1) the January 2014 failure to protect claim against Defendants Godding, Chapdelaine, McCormick, Lindsey and Maldonado; (2) the claim that Defendants Gonzalez, Torres, Ulm, Leiper and Clayton were deliberately indifferent to Mr. Morgan's safety when they called him a snitch in front of other inmates; (3) the claim that Defendants Lizon, Wright, Maldonado, Manning, Ott, Barone, Dzurenda, Semple, Lewis and Quiros were deliberately indifferent to Mr. Morgan's safety because they failed to take any action to protect Mr. Morgan from potential harm when they learned of the conduct of defendants Gonzalez, Torres, Ulm, Leiper and Clayton; (4) the specific claims of retaliation against Defendants Whidden and Warden Maldonado; and (5) the state law claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. See Motion to Dismiss Order at 22, ECF No. 53.

         Pending before the Court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment as to all of Morgan's claims. ECF No. 82. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part. Specifically, the motion is GRANTED as to the Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference to safety claims against Gonzalez, Torres, Ulm, Leiper, Clayton, Lizon, Wright, Maldonado, Manning, Ott, Barone, Dzurenda, Semple, Lewis, and Quiros, in relation to comments from Gonzalez, Torres, Ulm, Leiper, and Clayton indicating that Morgan was a snitch in front of other inmates; the Eighth Amendment failure to protect claim against McCormick centering on the assault by Rodriguez on Morgan; and the First Amendment retaliation claims against Whidden and Maldonado. The motion is DENIED as to the Eighth Amendment failure to protect claim against Chapdelaine, Godding, Maldonado and Lindsey arising from the assault by Rodriguez on Morgan and as to the intentional infliction of emotional distress claims.

         I. Standard of Review

         The Court will grant a motion for summary judgment if it determines that there is no genuine dispute of material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The moving party bears the burden of showing that no genuine dispute of material fact exists. Carlton v. Mystic Transp., Inc., 202 F.3d 129, 133 (2d Cir. 2000). “A dispute regarding a material fact is genuine if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Williams v. Utica Coll. Of Syracuse Univ., 453 F.3d 112, 116 (2d Cir. 2006) (quoting Stuart v. Am. Cyanamic Co., 158 F.3d 622, 626 (2d Cir. 1998). The substantive law governing the case identifies which facts are material, and “only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Boubolis v. Transp. Workers Union of Am., 442 F.3d 55, 59 (2d Cir. 2006) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)).

         On summary judgment, the Court's task is “carefully limited to discerning whether there are any genuine issues of material fact to be tried, not to deciding them.” Gallo v. Prudential Residential Servs., Ltd. P'ship, 22 F.3d 1219, 1224 (2d Cir. 1994). When reviewing the record on a motion for summary judgment, the Court must “assess the record in the light most favorable to the non-movant” and “draw all reasonable inferences in its favor.” Weinstock v. Columbia Univ., 224 F.3d 33, 41 (2d Cir. 2000). Inferences drawn in favor of the nonmovant must, however, be supported by evidence, and the “mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [nonmovant's] position” is insufficient to defeat summary judgment. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 252. Conclusory allegations, conjecture, and speculation are insufficient to create genuine issues of material fact. Kerzer v. Kingly Mfg., 156 F.3d 396, 400 (2d Cir. 1998) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Where one party is proceeding pro se, the Court must read 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 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, 224 F.3d at 41.

         II. Factual Allegations[1]

         In 2013, the Department of Correction (“DOC) housed Morgan at the Carl Robinson Correctional Institution (“Robinson”), until he was transferred to Osborn Correctional (“Osborn”) from Robinson on November 8, 2013. Morgan Aff. ¶ 3, ECF No. 100-1; Maiga Aff. ¶ 24, ECF No. 82-5. Before he was housed at Robinson in 2013, Morgan had been housed at Osborn. Morgan Aff. ¶ 4.

         A. November 8, 2013 Transfer

         While housed at Robinson in 2013, Morgan testifies that he filed “numerous complaints regarding threats to my safety made by multiple inmates who were gang members.” Morgan Aff. ¶ 4. Morgan also wrote to Whidden about these threats and the fear for his safety, and indicated that he had also “experienced threats to [his] person by gang members” while he was housed at Osborn before being housed at Robinson. Id. ¶ 5. Morgan therefore requested placement in protective custody and had a protective custody application completed and submitted. Id. ¶ 6.

         A correctional official conducted an investigation into Morgan's allegations in support of his request for protective custody. During an interview with the investigator, Morgan identified three inmates who had threatened to harm him. The investigator also interviewed one of the inmates who had allegedly threatened Morgan.

         On November 4, 2013, the investigator recommended that the request for protective custody status for Morgan be denied because there was a lack of evidence to support a valid threat to Morgan's safety and because there was a reasonable housing alternative in general population. The investigator noted that Morgan could not be managed in a dormitory setting, but recommended that Morgan be housed in a celled facility in a single cell in general population.

         On November 5, 2013, Whidden concurred with the recommendations of the investigator and denied the request for protective custody. She agreed that a transfer to another facility that did not have dormitory-style housing would be sufficient to meet the safety and other concerns of Mr. Morgan. Later that day, Quiros concurred with Whidden's recommendation.

         On November 7, 2013, Lewis approved the recommendations of Whidden to deny Morgan's request to be placed in protective custody and to transfer Morgan to a celled facility. Lewis also ordered that formal separation profiles be established between Mr. Morgan and the three inmates who had threatened him.

         On November 8, 2013, officials at Robinson transferred Morgan to Osborn Correctional Institution (“Osborn”). Inmate Gabriel Rodriguez was confined at Osborn in housing Unit B, the same unit as Morgan. This was the first time that Rodriguez and Morgan had been confined together in the same facility under DOC custody. Unit B had not been designated as a unit for gang members.

         B. Morgan's Complaints at Osborn

         On November 13, 2013, Mr. Morgan completed and submitted an Inmate Request Form addressed to Godding. On December 2, 2013, Mr. Morgan completed and submitted an Inmate Request Form addressed Chapdelaine. On December 18, 2013, Mr. Morgan completed and submitted an Inmate Request Form addressed to McCormick.

         At some point in 2009, McCormick began to work at Osborn. On December 10, 2013, DOC re-assigned Captain McCormick to the District One Office. His duties and responsibilities at Osborn ended when he left Osborn for the District One Office. McCormick does not, therefore, remember receiving the Inmate Request Form dated December 18, 2013 that Morgan addressed to him. McCormick was unaware of any problems between Morgan and Rodriguez and had no reason to believe that Morgan was in danger.

         On January 3, 2014, DOC re-assigned Chapdelaine to become the Warden of MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution (“MacDougall”). Warden Chapdelaine's reassignment to MacDougall terminated her responsibilities at Osborn. She was no, therefore, aware of or involved in the incident that occurred on January 5, 2014 between Morgan and Rodriguez at Osborn.

         On January 3, 2014, DOC assigned Maldonado to take over as Warden of Osborn. Morgan did not express any concerns for his safety or problems with Rodriguez to Maldonado before the incident on January 5, 2014.

         C. January 5, 2014 Incident with Rodriguez

         On January 5, 2014, Morgan informed Lindsey and Maldonado that Rodriguez had threatened him and that he feared for his safety. Morgan Aff. ¶ 22. Lindsey and Maldonado did not take any action in response. Id.

         Hours later, Rodriguez assaulted Morgan in the B-block shower at Osborn, “beating [Morgan] about [his] head and choking [him].” Morgan Aff. ¶ 23. Morgan testifies that, during the assault, Rodriguez informed him that it was “for being a snitch and a homo.” Id. ¶ 25. Morgan testifies that this assault resulted in bruises to his head, face, and sides of his body, as well as emotional distress. Id. ¶ 24.

         After the assault by Rodriguez, Morgan was placed in segregation, in the Restrictive Hoousing Unit from January 5, 2014 through sometime in February 2014. Morgan Aff. ¶ 26. On February 18, 2014, Lizon transferred Morgan from the restrictive housing unit to Cell 24 in Unit F in general population Following the assault, Morgan again requested placement in protective custody. Morgan Aff. ¶ 27. Morgan testifies that Long submitted the protective custody package and that both Long and Lizon recommended that it be approved. Id. On January 21, 2014, Long submitted the request for protective custody placement on Morgan's behalf. On January 29, 2014, Morgan learned that Maldonado had denied his request to be placed on protective custody. Morgan appealed the denial of the request. On March 17, 2014, Semple denied the appeal.

         After the assault, Rodriguez was also placed in the restrictive housing unit. He was issued a disciplinary report for assault. Rodriguez pleaded guilty to the disciplinary charge. Since the January 5, 2014 incident, Morgan and Rodriguez have remained separated. Maiga Aff. ¶ 42. Rodriguez was moved from Osborn on February 2014. Id. ¶ 49. Morgan and Rodriguez have not been housed at the same facility since Rodriguez's February 2014 move. Id.

         III. Discussion

         Defendants assert three arguments in support of their motion for summary judgment on all of Morgan's claims. Defendants argue that that: (1) the facts do not, as a matter of law, support Morgan's failure to protect, deliberate indifference to safety, or retaliation claims; (2) the facts do not demonstrate the personal involvement of Dzurenda, Semple, Quiros, Lewis, Maldonado, Wright, Barone, Manning, Ott, and Lizon in any deliberate indifference to Morgan's safety; and (3) that Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity. See Def.'s Br. at 5-26, ECF No. 82-1.

         A. Eight Amendment Claims

         Morgan frames some of his Eighth Amendment claims as failure to protect clams and the others as deliberate indifference to safety claims. With respect to both types of claim, the threats to his safety that Morgan identified and that he alleges the Defendants failed to protect him from all came from other inmates. As discussed below, the standard for these claims is the same.

         The Eighth Amendment prohibits “cruel and unusual punishments.” U.S. Const. Amend. VIII. Under the Eighth Amendment, prison conditions must, therefore, provide inmates with “the minimal civilized measures of life's necessities.” Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 298 (1991). Prisons must provide inmates with their “basic human needs - e.g., food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and reasonable safety, ” and a failure to do so violates the Eighth Amendment. DeShaney v. Winnebago Cty. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 489 U.S. 189, 200 (1989). Accordingly, “prison officials have a duty to protect prisoners from violence at the hands of other prisoners.” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 833 (1994) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Fischl v. Armitage, 128 F.3d 50, 55 (2d Cir. 1997) (“The Eighth Amendment . . . imposes on prison officials a duty to protect prisoners from violence at the hands of other prisoners.” (internal quotation marks omitted)).

         To establish an Eighth Amendment violation for either failure to protect or deliberate indifference to safety, an incarcerated plaintiff must show first, “that he is incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm, ” and second, that the prison official had a “sufficiently culpable state of mind, ” which in “prison-conditions cases” is “one of deliberate indifference to inmate health or safety.” Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834 (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Lewis v. Swicki, 629 Fed.Appx. 77, 79 (2d Cir. 2015) (citing Hayes v. N.Y.C. Dep't of Corr., 84 F.3d 614, 620 (2d Cir. 1996)). To show deliberate indifference, the plaintiff must show that “the official kn[ew] of and disregard[ed] an excessive risk to inmate health or safety, ” which means that the official must “both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference.” Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837. Thus, the “deliberate indifference standard embodies both an objective and a subjective prong.” Hathaway v. Coughlin, 37 F.3d 63, 66 (2d Cir. 1994); see also Bridgewater v. Taylor, 698 F.Supp.2d 351, 357 (S.D.N.Y. 2010) (explaining that defendants must be aware of facts supporting an inference that harm would occur and must actually draw that inference).

         1. Failure ...

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