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Williams v. State, Department of Corrections

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

June 30, 2017




         Alfred Williams (“Plaintiff”), brings this action against the Connecticut Department of Corrections (“DOC”) and four of its employees: Captain James Shabenas, Lieutenant Herman Corvin, Lieutenant Brian Palmer, and Warden Scott Efie (together “Defendants”). Compl., ECF No. 1. Mr. Williams alleges that Defendants violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, as well as 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983 and 1988, during the course of Mr. Williams' employment with the DOC.

         Defendants have moved to dismiss the Complaint under Rule 12(b)(1) based on principles of claim preclusion as well as for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6). Def. Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 17. For the reasons outlined below, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART.


         Mr. Williams, who is African-American, allegedly began working for the DOC as a corrections officer in 1999. Compl. ¶ 36, ECF No. 1. Lieutenant Corvin and Lieutenant Palmer, Mr. Williams' supervisors during the time of his employment, are white. Captain James Shabenas and Warden Scott Efie, who supervised Defendants Corvin and Palmer during the relevant time period, are also white. During his employment with the DOC, Mr. Williams alleges that Defendants subjected him to various incidents of discrimination and retaliation. Id. at ¶¶ 39-40.

         Mr. Williams claims that, beginning in September of 2013, Defendants subjected him to harassment and treated him differently from similarly situated white employees. Id. at ¶ 8. On one occasion, Mr. Williams claims that he was transferred to work at a separate correctional institution because of a situation involving a set of missing keys, while Defendants took no such action against white officers who were similarly involved. Id. at ¶¶ 9-10. On another occasion, Mr. Williams claims that he was improperly questioned about why he had not changed surveillance tapes, despite Defendants' knowledge that Mr. Williams was not required to change the particular tapes at issue. Id. at ¶¶ 11-12. Mr. Williams further alleges that Defendants subjected him to additional requirements that were not required of his co-workers, such as requiring him to sign the DOC log book when he was on duty. Id. at ¶¶ 13-14. In addition to these alleged instances of harassment and disparate treatment, Mr. Williams claims that he was denied several promotions despite being more qualified than the individuals who were selected for those promotions, all of whom were white. Id. at ¶¶ 16-17.

         In 2014, Mr. Williams filed an employment discrimination complaint with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (“CHRO”) and with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (“EEOC”) in connection with this conduct. See Nov. 2014 EEOC/CHRO Letters, Compl. Ex. 1, ECF No. 1-1. The CHRO released jurisdiction on November 18, 2014, and the EEOC issued a “right to sue” letter on January 29, 2015.[1]

         On April 28, 2015, before initiating this current action, Mr. Williams filed a complaint in Williams v. Department of Corrections,, Case No. 3:15-CV-00627 (VAB) (“Williams I”), a separate lawsuit in this Court consisting of nearly identical allegations against the same Defendants. On August 24, 2016, the Court dismissed the Williams I complaint without prejudice under Rule 12(b)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for failure to make proper service and allowed Mr. Williams 30 days within which to properly serve Defendants, setting a deadline of September 24, 2016. Id., Order, ECF No. 40. Mr. Williams did not serve Defendants within the specified time frame, triggering dismissal for lack of personal jurisdiction under the terms of the Court's order. Id. at 13. Williams I was formally closed on June 27, 2017. Id., Order, ECF No. 42.

         On October 19, 2016, after failing to comply with the September 24, 2016 service deadline specified in the initial lawsuit, Mr. Williams filed a new Complaint, initiating this lawsuit.[2] The Complaint is based on the same underlying facts as the complaint in the initial lawsuit, it names the same Defendants, and it makes nearly identical legal claims.[3] Defendants now move to dismiss Mr. Williams' new Complaint under Rule 12(b)(1) and Rule 12(b)(6).[4]


         A district court may not entertain a case where it lacks subject matter jurisdiction. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1); Makarova v. United States, 201 F.3d 110, 113 (2d Cir. 2000) (“A case is properly dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) when the district court lacks the statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate it.”). “A plaintiff asserting subject matter jurisdiction has the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that it exists.” Id. (citing Malik v. Meissner, 82 F.3d 560, 562 (2d Cir.1996)). When reviewing a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1), “courts must accept as true all material factual allegations in the complaint . . . .” Shipping Fin. Serv. Corp. v. Drakos, 140 F.3d 129, 131 (2d Cir. 1998) (citation omitted). However, the court must refrain “drawing from the pleadings inferences favorable to the party asserting [jurisdiction].” APWU v. Potter, 343 F.3d 619, 623 (2d Cir. 2003) (citation omitted).

         Courts may also dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim under Fed R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). When considering a motion to dismiss under this rule, the Court must accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint and draw all possible inferences from those allegations in favor of the plaintiff. See York v. Ass'n of the Bar of the City of New York, 286 F.3d 122, 125 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 537 U.S. 1089 (2002). The proper consideration is not whether the plaintiff ultimately will prevail, but whether the plaintiff has stated a claim upon which relief may be granted such that he should be entitled to offer evidence to support his claim. See id. (citation omitted).

         In reviewing a complaint under Rule 12(b)(6), the court applies “a ‘plausibility standard, '” which is guided by “two working principles.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). First, the requirement that the Court accept as true the allegations in a complaint “is inapplicable to legal conclusions.” Id. “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id. Second, to survive a motion to dismiss, the complaint must state a plausible claim for relief. Id. at 679. Determining whether the complaint states a plausible claim for relief is “‘a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.'” Harris v. Mills, 572 F.3d 66, 72 (2d Cir. 2009) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679).

         III. ...

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