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Peterson v. Maldonado

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

July 17, 2017

EDWARD MALDONADO, et al. Defendants.


          Hon. Michael P. Shea United States District Judge.

         On June 14, 2017, the plaintiff, Johnny Peterson, an inmate currently housed at Osborn Correctional Institution (“Osborn”) in Somers, CT, brought a civil complaint against Warden Edward Maldonado, Correction Officer Dowles, Captain Chapdelaine, and two unnamed correction officers, identified only as John Does 1 and 2, in their individual and official capacities. On June 23, 2017, this Court granted the plaintiff's motion to proceed in forma pauperis. See Order #6. For the following reasons, the complaint is dismissed in part.

         I. Relevant Legal Principles

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A of the United States Code, 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. Although detailed allegations are not required, the complaint must include sufficient facts to afford the defendants fair notice of the claims and the grounds upon which they are based and to demonstrate a right to relief. Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007). Conclusory allegations are not sufficient. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). The plaintiff must plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic, 550 U.S. at 570. Nevertheless, it is well-established 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)); see also Tracy v. Freshwater, 623 F.3d 90, 101-02 (2d Cir. 2010) (discussing special rules of solicitude for pro se litigants).

         II. Factual Allegations

         On February 23, 2017, the plaintiff was housed in the E-Block unit at Osborn. At approximately 9:00 or 9:30 a.m., he was instructed to exit his cell and proceed to the gym. Around that time, two officers, apparently John Doe 1 and 2, were conducting a training exercise, in violation of Department of Correction administrative directives. The two officers were part of the Correctional Emergency Response Team or “CERT” team. When the plaintiff exited his cell, he observed approximately 150 to 200 CERT officers in full riot gear carrying assault rifles, shot guns, and tear gas guns. The officers “were supervised by Captain Chapdelaine in Osborn, which was under the administration of Warden Edward Maldonado.” The lead CERT officer, Officer Dowles, shouted at the plaintiff, “I'll fuckin kill you! I'll fuck you up! Don't fuckin look at me! I'll break your skull!” The threatening remarks and display of weapons caused the plaintiff to suffer a panic attack. When he arrived at the gym, the plaintiff was subject to further ridicule and “constant dehumanizing remarks.”

         The next day, the plaintiff spoke with Warden Maldonado, who informed him that he did not authorize a CERT training exercise and that inmates were not supposed to be involved in any such training. As a result of the incident, the plaintiff now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety attacks, and panic attacks. He is suing each defendant for monetary damages.

         III. Analysis

         A. Officer Dowles

         The plaintiff does not specify in his complaint the cause of action for his case. Although the plaintiff states that the prison was in violation of its own regulations by conducting a drill in the presence of an inmate, “a prison inmate does not have a viable § 1983 claim based solely on prison officials' failure to adhere to the requirements of prison regulations, directives or policy statements.” Lopez v. Reynolds, 998 F.Supp. 252, 259 (W.D.N.Y. 1997); see also Russell v. Coughlin, 910 F.2d 75, 78 n. 1 (2d Cir. 1990). Because he is pursuing his case under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Court will construe his allegations as a claim of deliberate indifference to safety under the Eighth Amendment.

         To state a claim for deliberate indifference to safety, the plaintiff must show that the alleged conduct is sufficiently serious and that the defendants acted with a sufficiently culpable state of mind, that is, that they acted maliciously and sadistically to cause harm. See Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994). The defendants must have been aware that the plaintiff faced an excessive risk to his health and safety and ignored that risk. See Id. at 837. To determine whether the plaintiff faced an excessive risk of serious harm, the courts “look at the facts and circumstances of which the official was aware at the time he acted or failed to act.” Hartry v. County of Suffolk, 755 F.Supp.2d 422, 436 (E.D.N.Y. 2010) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e) (emphasis added).

         Construed liberally, the plaintiff states a plausible Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference to safety claim against Officer Dowles in his individual capacity. Plaintiff makes the deliberate indifference claim based on allegedly threatening remarks Officer Dowles made to the plaintiff, while he was wearing tactical gear and carrying a weapon. The plaintiff states that this caused him emotional distress.

         Under the PLRA allegations of emotional distress-absent allegations of a physical injury-will not suffice for a plaintiff to recover compensatory damages. 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e) (“No Federal civil action may be brought by a prisoner confined in a jail, prison, or other correctional facility, for mental or emotional injury suffered while in custody without a prior showing of physical injury.”). But if “the plaintiff alleges the violation of a constitutional right, the action is not entirely barred and the plaintiff may obtain injunctive or declaratory relief, and nominal or punitive, but not compensatory damages irrespective of any physical injury if [he] proves that violation.” Voorhees v. Goord, No. 05 Civ. 1407, 2006 WL 1888638, at *9 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 24, 2006). As such, although the plaintiff will not be able to recover compensatory damages based on the injury alleged, he may be able to obtain nominal and/or punitive damages.

         Because the plaintiff is only seeking monetary damages, he cannot sue Dowles in his official capacity. See Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159 (1985) (claims for monetary damages against defendants in official capacities are barred by ...

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