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Hedge v. Semple

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

July 20, 2017

KAREEM HEDGE, Plaintiff,
SCOTT SEMPLE, et al., Defendants.


          Michael P. Shea United States District Judge

         The plaintiff, Kareem Hedge, commenced this civil rights action against Commissioner Scott Semple and Counselor Supervisor R. Digennaro.[1] He contends that defendant Digennaro violated his right of access to the courts when she delayed the mailing of a response to a court order causing a habeas corpus action filed in federal court in New York to be dismissed. The defendants move for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, the defendants' motion is granted.

         I. Standard of Review

         A motion for summary judgment may be granted only where there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Rule 56(a), Fed. R. Civ. P.; In re Dana Corp., 574 F.3d 129, 151 (2d Cir. 2009). The moving party may satisfy his burden “by showing-that is pointing out to the district court-that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.” PepsiCo, Inc. v. Coca-Cola Co., 315 F.3d 101, 105 (2d Cir. 2002) (per curiam) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Once the moving party meets this burden, the nonmoving party must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Wright v. Goord, 554 F.3d 255, 266 (2d Cir. 2009). He must present such evidence as would allow a jury to find in his favor to defeat the motion for summary judgment. Graham v. Long Island R.R., 230 F.3d 34, 38 (2d Cir. 2000). The nonmoving party “must offer some hard evidence showing that its version is not wholly fanciful.” D'Amico v. City of New York, 132 F.3d 145, 149 (2d Cir. 1998).

         II. Facts[2]

         At all times relevant to this action, the plaintiff was confined in a Connecticut correctional facility serving a Connecticut sentence. On November 7, 2013, the petitioner filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York (the “Eastern District”) challenging a New York state sentence.

         On November 26, 2013, the Eastern District entered an Order to Show Cause directing the plaintiff to submit a written affirmation explaining why the petition should not be dismissed. In the affirmation, the plaintiff was directed to answer two simple questions: had he served the New York sentence, and were there factors to warrant equitable tolling of the one-year limitations period set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d). The plaintiff was cautioned that the affirmation had to be filed within thirty days from the date of the order, i.e., by December 26, 2013. The order informed the plaintiff that if he did not timely file the affirmation, his petition would be dismissed.

         The plaintiff gave his affirmation to Counselor Schaffer for mailing on December 29 or 30, 2013.[3] The affirmation was not mailed and later was found to have been held by defendant Digennaro. On January 14, 2014, the Eastern District dismissed the habeas petition without prejudice.

          III. Discussion

          The plaintiff contends that the actions of defendant Digennaro violated his right of access to the courts. In response, the defendants argue that the plaintiff cannot establish that he suffered an actual injury as a result of defendant Digennaro's actions.

         To state a claim for denial of access to the courts, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendants acted deliberately and maliciously and that he suffered an actual injury. See Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 353 (1996). To establish an actual injury, the plaintiff must allege facts showing that the defendants took or were responsible for actions that hindered his efforts to pursue a legal claim, prejudiced one of his existing actions, or otherwise actually interfered with his access to the courts. See Monsky v. Moraghan, 127 F.3d 243, 247 (2d Cir. 2002). The right of access to the courts “is ancillary to the underlying claim, without which [an inmate] cannot have suffered injury by being shut out of court.” Christopher v. Harbury, 536 U.S. 403, 415 (2002). Thus, to establish an actual injury, the plaintiff must show that his underlying claim was not frivolous and that his pursuit of that claim was frustrated by the defendants' actions. See id.; Lewis, 518 U.S. at 351-54. “[T]he predicate claim [must] be described well enough to apply the ‘nonfrivolous' test and to show that the ‘arguable' nature of the underlying claim is more than hope.” Christopher, 536 U.S. at 416.

         The lawsuit at issue was a habeas corpus action, and the case was dismissed because the affirmation was not timely filed. The defendants argue, however, that they were not responsible for the plaintiff's failure to timely file his affirmation. The court order directed the plaintiff to file the affirmation within thirty days from November 26, 2013, i.e., on or before December 26, 2013, and stated that the petition would be dismissed if he did not do so. See Defs.' Mem. Attachment A, Branker[4] v. New York, No. 13-CV-6252(WFK), 2013 WL 6199986 (E.D.N.Y. Nov. 26, 2013), ECF No. 14-2 at 4. The plaintiff states in his verified complaint that he did not give the document to Counselor Schaffer for mailing until December 30, 2013 and states in his affidavit that he gave it to Counselor Schaffer on December 29, 2013. In either case, he did not give the document to Counselor Schaffer for mailing until at least three days after the deadline. Thus, by the plaintiff's own admission, his petition was subject to dismissal before any actions were taken by defendant Digennaro.

         In opposition to the motion for summary judgment, the plaintiff states that, on December 15, 2013, he gave Counselor Schaffer an envelope containing motions for extension of time and appointment of counsel to be mailed to the Eastern district, but she did not mail the envelope. ECF No. 34-2 at 1 & 34-3 at 2. These motions were not responsive to the court's order in Branker. Even assuming that the court would have granted the motion for extension of time, however, this event does not demonstrate that the defendants caused the required actual injury.

         Counselor Schaffer is not named as a defendant in this case. Although the plaintiff did include John or Jane Doe as a defendant, Counselor Schaffer cannot be the Doe defendant as the plaintiff was aware of her identity at the time he filed the complaint and referred to her in the complaint. The plaintiff has presented no evidence in opposition to the motion for summary judgment demonstrating that defendant Digennaro or defendant Semple had any involvement in the failure to mail the envelope given to Counselor Schaffer on ...

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