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Viola v. Bryant

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

June 21, 2017

GREGORY VIOLA, Plaintiff,
v.
VANESSA BRYANT, Defendant.

          INITIAL REVIEW ORDER

          CHARLES S. HAIGHT, JR., SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff, Gregory Viola, currently incarcerated at the Devens Federal Medical Center in Ayer, Massachusetts, filed this complaint pro se pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), which permits suits against federal employees for violations of federal constitutional rights. Viola is challenging his sentence on certain federal criminal charges from 2012. He also complains about the denial of his subsequent habeas petition by the Honorable Vanessa Bryant, United States District Judge, who had also imposed Viola's sentence. Judge Bryant is the only Defendant in Viola's complaint.

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under section 1915 A of title 28 of the United States Code, the Court must review 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." 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1), (2). In reviewing a pro se complaint, the Court must assume the truth of the allegations, and interpret them liberally to "raise the strongest arguments [they] suggest[]." Abbas v. Dixon, 480 F.3d 636, 639 (2d Cir. 2007) (citing Weixel v. Bd. of Educ. of N.Y., 287 F.3d 138, 146 (2d Cir. 2002)). Although detailed allegations are not required, the complaint must include sufficient facts to afford the defendant fair notice of the claims and the grounds upon which they are based. Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007). A plaintiff must plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570. Conclusory allegations are not sufficient. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Nevertheless, it is well-established and worth repeating that " [p]ro 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)).

         II. FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS

         The factual allegations contained in Viola's complaint are recounted herein, recited in the light most favorable to Viola.

         Viola entered a guilty plea to federal charges of wire fraud. Doc. 1 ¶ 1. On October 4, 2012, Judge Bryant sentenced him without taking into consideration his acceptance of responsibility for the crimes as proscribed by the United States Sentencing Guidelines. Id. ¶¶ 1-2.[1] While preparing a habeas corpus petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, Viola discovered evidence allegedly showing that Judge Bryant was biased against him. Id. ¶ 3. The evidence is attached to his complaint as Exhibit A. Id. ¶ 4.

         Exhibit A is a copy of an affidavit from an inmate who had been incarcerated with Plaintiffs criminal attorney, James Pickerstein. Id. ¶¶ 3-4. The affidavit recounts conversations between the inmate and Pickerstein. See Ex. A. In those conversations, Pickerstein claims to have been upset with his former client, Viola, for a variety of reasons, deliberately set out to "screw[] him, " and to have had a relationship with "Vanessa"(referring to Judge Bryant by her first name) whereby she would protect him and Viola would never be able to establish an ineffective assistance of counsel claim or win his appeal. Id. at 2-3; Doc. 1 ¶ 4.

         Viola alleges that the affidavit also "makes clear" that Pickerstein promised Viola that Judge Bryant would sentence him to 24 months just to get rid of Viola because he was a "nightmare client." Doc. 1 ¶ 5. Viola alleges that the affidavit shows Pickerstein intended Viola to receive a long criminal sentence in an effort to reduce his own potential criminal sentence. Id. Viola alleges that Judge Bryant has been in a conspiracy with Pickerstein to "frustrate every procedural attempt of the Plaintiff to prove this illegal conduct of [Judge Bryant] and James Pickerstein." Id. ¶ 6.

         As evidence of this "conspiracy, " Viola alleges that Judge Bryant denied a "Motion of Discovery" that Viola filed in order to "prove these allegations" on April 26, 2016. Id. ¶ 7.[2]According to Viola, Judge Bryant "showed her biasness [sic]" in the ruling by claiming that he had not held a job since the late 1990s and that he was a habitual gambler with huge losses. Id. Viola asserts that her actions show "plain biasness [sic] and slander." Id. Viola then filed a "Motion for Recusal, " which Viola alleges Judge Bryant improperly denied because Judge Bryant is a fact witness to his case, and thus, her recusal was required. Id. ¶ 8.[3] On March 15, 2017, Viola's § 2255 habeas corpus petition was dismissed by Judge Bryant, "without any legal precedent" according to Plaintiff. Id. ¶ 9.[4]

         Viola alleges that Judge Bryant's conduct shows "a clear pattern and abuse of conduct" in order to harm Viola because of her "outside relationship with James Pickerstein." Doc. 1 ¶ 10. He believes that Judge Bryant tried to frustrate and prevent his exoneration in a court of law. Id. Viola claims that Judge Bryant's behavior violated his constitutionally protected civil rights. Id. Viola seeks the costs of this lawsuit, attorney's fees and all other relief that the Court feels is just and proper. Id. at 3.

         III. DISCUSSION

         Viola brings claims pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388(1971). Bivens is analogous to an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 except that § 1983 applies to state actors, rather than federal actors. See Mahoney v. Nat'l Org. for Women, 681 F.Supp. 129, 132 (D. Conn. 1987). Analysis of Bivens claims therefore parallel the analysis used to evaluate state prisoners' § 1983 claims. See Tavarez v. Reno, 54 F.3d 109, 110 (2d Cir. 1995) ("Because the two actions share the same 'practicalities of litigation', federal courts have typically incorporated § 1983 law into Bivens actions." (collecting cases) (citation omitted)). To state a claim under Bivens, a claimant must show (1) a deprivation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States; and (2) that the deprivation of the right was caused by an official acting under color of federal law. See Mahoney, 681 F.Supp. at 132 (citing Flagg Bros., Inc. v. Brooks, 436 U.S. 149, 155-56(1978)).

         As required by § 1915 A, the Court must dismiss any portion of Viola's 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." 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1), (2). Viola clearly seeks relief from someone who is immune from such relief and fails to state any claims to which he is entitled to relief. ...


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