United States District Court, D. Connecticut
JOSE I. GONZALEZ, Plaintiff,
FENTON, et al., Defendants.
INITIAL REVIEW ORDER PURSUANT TO 28 U.S.C. §
JEFFREY ALKER MEYER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Jose I. Gonzalez is a prisoner in the custody of the
Connecticut Department of Correction. He has filed a
complaint pro se and in forma pauperis
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging claims for deliberate
indifference to safety and denial of due process. After an
initial review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the Court
concludes that plaintiff's complaint should proceed and
be served on two of the four defendants.
following allegations from plaintiff's complaint are
accepted as true for purposes of this ruling. In 2016,
plaintiff was incarcerated at MacDougall-Walker Correctional
Institution. Plaintiff's cellmate had a reputation as a
“celly killer” because he was alleged to have
killed someone in California. Doc. #1 at 2 (¶ 10). On
March 27, 2016, plaintiff sent an Inmate Request Form to
defendant Unit Manager Davis, informing Davis that he was not
getting along with his cellmate and requesting that his
cellmate be moved. Id. at 1 (¶ 7); Doc. #1-1.
On April 5, 2016, the plaintiff sent a nearly identical
request to defendant Unit Manager Blanchard. See
Docs. #1 at 2 (¶ 8); #1-2.
April 8, 2016, defendant Correctional Officer Fenton
responded to “verbal aggression” coming from
plaintiff's cell. Doc. #1 at 2 (¶ 11). He observed
that plaintiff was injured and his cellmate was holding a
weapon. After five minutes, defendant Fenton called for
assistance. Ibid. Plaintiff's cellmate later
admitted to assaulting plaintiff and was placed in the
restrictive housing unit. Medical staff treated plaintiff for
his injuries, which included scratches on the side of his
face and the top of his head. Doc. #1-4 at 11.
26, 2016, plaintiff wrote to defendant Warden Chaplain
stating that he had seen his former cellmate loitering in the
hallway of the correctional facility on April 29, 2016. Doc.
#1-5. He questioned why the former cellmate had not been
transferred to another facility. Ibid.
to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a), the Court must review prisoner
civil complaints and dismiss any portion of the complaint
that is frivolous or malicious, that 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. The
Court must accept as true all 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); Mastafa v. Chevron Corp.,
770 F.3d 170, 177 (2d Cir. 2014) (same). Nevertheless, it is
well-established that “pro 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).
contends that all four defendants were deliberately
indifferent to his safety. Specifically, he alleges that
defendants Davis and Blanchard were aware of the problems
between plaintiff and his cellmate but took no action to
prevent the assault, that defendant Fenton waited for at
least five minutes before summoning help, and that defendant
Chaplain failed to keep plaintiff and his cellmate separated
following the assault. Plaintiff also argues that he was
denied due process because he cannot read or write in English
and because administrative remedy procedures were not
provided to him in Spanish.
indifference to safety
officials have a duty to make reasonable efforts to ensure
inmate safety. To establish a constitutional violation, a
plaintiff must show that the conditions of his incarceration
posed a substantial risk of serious harm and that prison
officials were deliberately indifferent to his safety.
See Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994).
Where the claim is that defendants failed to protect
plaintiff from harm at the hands of another inmate, the
plaintiff must show that defendants knew of and disregarded
an excessive risk to plaintiff's safety. See Id.
at 837; Bridgewater v. Taylor, 698 F.Supp.2d 351,
358 (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).
have found that prison officials are on notice of a
substantial risk of serious harm where, for example,
“there has been prior hostility between inmates, or a
prior assault by one inmate on another, and those inmates are
not kept separated.” Roman v. Semple, 2013 WL
951728, at *1 (D. Conn. 2013). Courts have also found that
correctional staff are on notice “when an inmate
informs corrections officers about a specific fear of assault
and is then assaulted.” Beckles v. Bennett,
2008 WL 821827, at *17 (S.D.N.Y. 2008). On the other hand,
“communicating vague concerns of future assault by
unknown individuals [is] not sufficient to impose liability
on an officer who fails to protect an inmate.”
Rivera v. New York, 1999 WL 13240, at *9 (S.D.N.Y.
alleges that he informed defendants Davis and Blanchard that
he was having problems with his cellmate, just days before
the assault, and defendants allegedly failed to respond.
Specifically, plaintiff wrote to Davis and Blanchard,
“Me and my celly aren't getting along I don't
want any trouble I'm trying to go home could you please
move him before it becomes a problem.” Docs. #1-1,
#1-2. Although this communication, taken on its own, is
somewhat vague and does not explicitly indicate a fear of
assault, the complaint also alleges that plaintiff's
cellmate “was know[n] as a ‘celly killer'
because he killed someone, allegedly, in California.”
Doc. #1 at 2 (¶ 10). If Davis and Blanchard were aware
of the cellmate's reputation, plaintiff's
communications combined with defendants' background
knowledge may have been enough to put defendants on notice
that plaintiff was at risk. I conclude that the allegations
in the complaint are sufficient to enable plaintiff to
conduct discovery to obtain evidence (if any) to support his
claim. The claim for deliberate indifference to safety will
therefore proceed against defendants Davis and Blanchard.
alleges that defendant Fenton responded to the sounds of an
altercation but waited five minutes before summoning
assistance. Plaintiff was not injured during this time.
Plaintiff attached to his complaint a copy of the incident
report which states that, upon arriving at the cell,
defendant Fenton ordered the inmates to remain apart and then
contacted his supervisor for assistance. Doc. #1-4 at 1, 5.
Based on the facts alleged, the Court concludes that
defendant has not alleged a ...