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Green v. Santiago

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

May 26, 2017

COURTNEY GREEN, Plaintiff,
v.
ANTONIO SANTIAGO, SCOTT ERFE, PETER MURPHY, DEPUTY WARDEN J. ZEGARZEWSKI, DEPUTY WARDEN G. MUDANO, CAPTAIN D. WILLIAMS, CAPTAIN DOUGHTORY, LIEUTENANT CONGER, LIEUTENANT M. PLUSZYNSKI, MICHELLE KING, and VISITING COORDINATOR S. JUBINSKY, Defendants.

          INITIAL REVIEW ORDER

          Charles S. Haight, Jr. Senior United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Courtney Green ("Green"), incarcerated in a Connecticut prison and appearing pro se, has filed a Complaint, containing a number of allegations which assert claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against several state prison officials.

         The Defendants identified by the Complaint are Warden Antonio Santiago; Warden Scott Erfe; District Administrator Peter Murphy; Deputy Warden J. Zegarzewski; Deputy Warden G. Mudano; Captain D. Williams; Captain Doughtory; Lieutenant Conger; Lietenant M. Pluszynski; Administrative Remedies Coordinator Michelle King, and Visiting Coordinator S. Jubinsky.

         All Defendants are named in their individual and official capacities and were employed at Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Institution ("Corrigan") where Green was incarcerated at the time of the alleged events.

         This Ruling begins with, and consists principally of, the Court's sua sponte review of Green's pleadings, a review mandated by the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996 (PLRA), 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         28 U.S.C. § 1915A directs federal district courts to consider all prisoner civil complaints against governmental actors, and dismiss any portion of the 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." § 1915A(b)(1), (2).

         A district court's sua sponte dismissal of a prisoner's complaint under § 1915A is reviewed de novo by the court of appeals. Where the district court has dismissed for failure to state a claim, the Second Circuit has said that "we accept all of plaintiff's factual allegations in the complaint as true and draw inferences from those allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. We must reverse a district court's dismissal pursuant to § 1915A whenever a liberal reading of the complaint gives any indication that a valid claim might be stated." Larkin v. Savage, 318 F.3d 138, 139 (2d Cir. 2003) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

         At the district court level, the district judge's § 1915A review of whether a complaint "fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted" is guided by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, as interpreted by Supreme Court and Second Circuit decisions whose principles have become familiar. A pro se complaint is adequately pleaded if its allegations, liberally construed, could "conceivably give rise to a viable claim." Phillips v. Girdich, 408 F.3d 124, 130 (2d Cir. 2005). The Court must accept as true all well-pleaded and non-conclusory 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). In Larkin the Second Circuit took care to say, in the § 1915A context: "We will not affirm the dismissal of a complaint unless it appears beyond doubt, even when the complaint is liberally construed, that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts that would entitle him to relief." 318 F.3d at 139 (citation omitted). The Court will apply these standards in conducting its initial review of any claims asserted by Green. The Court begins with a recitation of the factual allegations contained in these pleadings.

         II. FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS

         The factual allegations contained in Green's Complaint, filed on October 17, 2016, are recounted herein, recited in the light most favorable to Green. They describe Green's August 2014 transfer from Cheshire Correctional Institution ("CCI") to Corrigan, his subsequent exposure to Corrigan's visiting policies, and the chronology of his objections to these policies, including his formal administrative grievance.

         A. Green's History of Contact Visits at CCI

         Green was confined at CCI for approximately four and one half years, prior to his August 2014 transfer to Corrigan. As of August 2014, Green had been "discipline report free" for five and one-half years, with no assaults on Department of Correction staff. Green had no gang affiliation, no history of introducing contraband into a correctional facility, and posed no unusual safety concern to prison staff or fellow inmates.

         While confined at CCI, Green was afforded contact visits with his family, in accordance with Connecticut Department of Correction Administrative Directive 10.6(6)L.1. Green was then, and remains today, in compliance with the provisions of that Directive regarding prisoner eligibility for contact visits.

         B. Initial Denial of Contact Visits at Corrigan

         Following his transfer to Corrigan, in September 2014, Green received a visit from his spouse and child. This visit was non-contact, meaning that a glass partition separated Green from his visitors. Green expressed his displeasure with this arrangement to the visiting officer in charge. Green was told he would not be allowed contact visits, as Corrigan is a "non-contact facility." Green objected to the visiting officer's characterization of Corrigan as a "non-contact facility, " telling the officer this could not be true, as two other inmates were receiving contact visits at the same time that such visits were denied to Green. The visiting officer replied that while the officer was not responsible for making the visiting rules, Green could write to Defendant Conger to get into the "M.A.C. group, " as only M.A.C. group members were eligible to receive contact visits at Corrigan. The visiting officer inquired into Green's disciplinary record, and, upon hearing that Green had not had a disciplinary report for five and one-half years, assured Green that there would be no difficulty in his obtaining contact visits.

         C. The M.A.C. Group

         A few days after the visit described above, Green wrote to Defendant Conger, the M.A.C. group coordinator, to request enrollment in the M.A.C. group, via inmate request. Defendant Conger never responded to Plaintiff's request in writing. However, while Defendant Conger was touring Green's housing unit, F-Pod, Defendant Conger notified Green in person that Green did not meet the requirements for M.A.C. group membership.

         The requirements for membership in the M.A.C. group are as follows: (1) inmates must be "discipline free" for two years; and (2) inmates must have a minimum of twenty-five years remaining on their sentence at the time of their application to the group. Green met the first condition, by virtue of his clean disciplinary record. He did not meet the second condition; at the time of his application to the M.A.C. group, Green had less than twenty-five years remaining on his sentence. As Defendant Conger informed him, Green was therefore ineligible for membership in the M.A.C. group.

         The M.A.C. group consists of fifteen inmates. Corrigan has a population of approximately 800 inmates, but of this population, the fifteen members of the M.A.C. group are the only inmates afforded contact visits. Defendant Williams served, at one time, as M.A.C. group coordinator. Defendant Pluszynski is the M.A.C. group contact visit/high security coordinator. Defendant Jubinsky is Visiting Coordinator, and as such "signed off" on the M.A.C. group policies. Defendant Doughtory is the Intel Captain of Corrigan, and also approved of the M.A.C. group policies. Defendant Zegarzewski, as Deputy Warden of Programs and Treatment, allowed the M.A.C. group to function under that authority. Defendant Mudano, as Deputy Warden, also gave approval to the M.A.C. group policies.

         Other Level 4 correctional facilities in Connecticut, including CCI, Garner Correctional Institution, and MacDougall Correctional Institution, allow contact visits for their general populations, as described by Administrative Directive 10.6(6)L.1. There is no M.A.C. group or equivalent limitation on access to contact visits at the referenced institutions.

         D. Green's Protests and Grievance

         In late September 2014, after receiving Defendant Conger's negative response to his application to join the M.A.C. group, Green wrote to Defendant Erfe in protest of Corrigan's contact visit policies. At the time this letter was sent, Green understood that Defendant Erfe was the warden of Corrigan. Green never received a response to this letter.

         In January 2015, Green mentioned the lack of response to his letter to Defendant Erfe to Green's counselor, non-party Counselor Meigs. Counselor Meigs informed Green that Defendant Erfe was no longer the warden of Corrigan, and had not held that post for a few months. Counselor Meigs suggested that Green address his concerns to the new warden, Defendant Santiago.

         On February 22, 2015, Green addressed an inmate request to Defendant Santiago, inquiring into the authority cited for Corrigan's failure to provide contact visits to its general population, while allowing contact visits for the fifteen members of the M.A.C. group. By the same inmate request, Green further requested a contact visit with Defendant Santiago.

         On March 2, 2015, Green received a written response from Defendant Santiago. This response again denied Green's request for contact visits, without providing any additional rationale for this denial.

         Green then filed an administrative remedy (grievance) to protest the repeated denial of his requests for contact visits.

         Defendant King denied Green's grievance. Defendant King cited the permissive language of Administrative Directive 10.6, which states that Level 2, 3, and 4 facilities may provide for contact visits (emphasis added). Defendant King instructed Green to contact nonparty Counselor Supervisor Cruz, to request placement on the transfer list, and ...


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