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Fowler v. Department of Correction

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

August 8, 2017



          Jeffrey Alker Meyer, United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Jamarr Fowler is a prisoner in the custody of the Connecticut Department of Correction. He has filed a complaint pro se and in forma pauperis, against the Connecticut Department of Correction (“DOC”) and 32 individual prison officials. Plaintiff, who is hearing impaired, alleges that defendants violated his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Rehabilitation Act, First Amendment, Eighth Amendment, and Fourteenth Amendment. Based on my initial review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, I conclude that plaintiff's complaint should be served on 28 of the 33 defendants.


         The following allegations from plaintiff's complaint are accepted as true for purposes of the Court's initial review. Plaintiff has a hearing-related disability.[1] On January 29, 2016, he was transferred to Osborn Correctional Institution (“Osborn”) and was improperly placed in the “E-Block” unit as opposed to the unit for disabled inmates, as previously ordered by a physician, Dr. Brenton. When plaintiff asked the correctional staff why he was not being placed in the disability unit, he was told that he had to be placed in E-Block because of a disciplinary report that he received at a previous facility. Plaintiff later learned that there was nothing in DOC's administrative directives that confirmed what he was told. He immediately filed written grievances to defendants Maldonado, Wright, and Long, requesting that he be transferred out of E-Block and housed in the disability unit. No one responded in writing to his complaints. Id. at 7-9 (¶¶ 38-39).

         Although E-Block is classified as a “general population” unit, the inmates housed in E-Block are subjected to greater restrictions than those inmates in other units, including the disabled inmate unit. For example, E-Block inmates are locked in their cells for 22 hours per day, whereas inmates in the other general population units are outside their cells for the majority of the day. E-Block inmates may only use the law library twice per month for 45 minutes whereas other inmates may use it four to five times per week. E-Block inmates are also not permitted recreation time to exercise, cannot obtain hot water to make food, and are forced to wear bright yellow jumpsuits as opposed to more comfortable clothing. Id. at 9-10 (¶ 40).

         After several weeks in E-Block, plaintiff was transferred to F-Block, another restrictive housing unit. Again, he was locked in his cell for 22 hours per day. When he was let out of his cell, he was forced to choose between taking a shower, attending religious services, or using the telephone. Such a restriction did not apply to other general population inmates. Plaintiff had very limited access to the telephone, and on the rare occasions when he was permitted to use the phone, his time was cut short. Plaintiff continued to make verbal complaints and file written grievances about his treatment. Id. at 11 (¶ 42-43).

         After several weeks in F-Block, plaintiff was transferred again-this time to C-Block, another restrictive housing unit. While housed in C-Block, plaintiff was again subjected to the same restrictive and punitive treatment as in F-Block. In addition, defendant Colon completely denied plaintiff access to the telephone during the day. When plaintiff filed complaints against Colon, Colon instructed other correctional officers to falsify disciplinary reports against plaintiff and to prevent him from using the telephone. Id. at 11-12 (¶¶ 43-45).

         Sometime during his placement in C-Block, plaintiff and plaintiff's family members contacted defendant Martucci, Director of External Affairs for DOC, and complained about plaintiff's treatment. Martucci informed plaintiff and his family that she was going to organize a meeting between plaintiff, Maldonado, and defendant Gallagher, the Health Services Coordinator, to “work out a plan that would be good for everybody.” That meeting never occurred. Gallagher eventually met with plaintiff, but she ended up placing plaintiff on an even more restrictive housing plan. Id. at 12 (¶ 45).

         Plaintiff then sent Martucci a letter, requesting that he be afforded reasonable accommodations and all of the same rights and privileges as other disabled inmates. Martucci responded with a letter informing plaintiff that all of his issues “have been thoroughly addressed” by Maldonado and his facility team. Plaintiff attempted to follow up with Martucci and explain that none of his issues had been addressed, but his requests were ignored. Id. at 13 (¶ 46).

         On April 4, 2016, in retaliation for plaintiff's filing of grievances, Maldonado transferred plaintiff to Corrigan Correctional Institution (“Corrigan”), a level-four maximum security prison that is much more restrictive than Osborn. Plaintiff alleges that Maldonado transferred plaintiff to Corrigan in order to prevent him from completing the programs he needs in order to be granted parole. Id. at 13-14 (¶ 47). While at Corrigan, plaintiff was only permitted to use the telephone on a “handful of occasions.” Id. at 14 (¶ 48). Defendants Santiago, Martin, Zegarzewski, and Gillette, all employees of Corrigan, told plaintiff that he would not be permitted to use the telephone during his evening recreation period, on weekends, or on holidays, and that he would only be allowed to use the phone “at [his] counselor's convenience.” Ibid. These restrictions did not apply to hearing inmates, and they also contradict the DOC's administrative directives, which provide that hearing-impaired inmates be permitted additional time to use the telephone. Ibid.

         Plaintiff filed numerous complaints and grievances “to the commissioner's office” and within the facility regarding his transfer to Corrigan and the denial of reasonable accommodations, alleging that defendants Marga, Vazquez, Martin, Zegarzewski, and Santiago were retaliating against him, but all his complaints went unanswered. In a further effort to punish plaintiff, Gillette placed plaintiff in the restrictive housing unit under administrative detention for making eleven phone calls to his family on May 6, 2016. However, because only two of the eleven calls were answered and the other nine went to voicemail, plaintiff's actions did not violate any DOC policy. Id. at 15 (¶ 49).

         Plaintiff did not receive a copy of the disciplinary report for the eleven phone calls until May 11, in violation of DOC's administrative directives, which required disciplinary reports to be served on inmates within 24 hours. A correctional officer falsified the date of service on the report, stating that it was served on May 9. Plaintiff complained to defendants Nemeth and Dousis (both disciplinary investigators) that he did not receive the report in a timely manner and that it contained false information. Nemeth and Dousis told plaintiff to direct his complaint to defendant Conger. When plaintiff complained to Conger, Conger told plaintiff that he believed Gillette and not plaintiff, and that it was not Conger's job to decide whether plaintiff was timely served with a copy of a disciplinary report. Plaintiff then complained to defendants Santiago and Martin, who responded with a statement to plaintiff that “due process was followed.” Id. at 16 (¶ 50).

         On May 12, 2016, Corrigan staff held a hearing regarding plaintiff's three disciplinary reports. Defendants Nemeth and Dousis denied plaintiff's requests to produce witnesses and documentary evidence in support of his defense and refused to investigate and gather evidence in connection with the reports. Plaintiff requested a continuance of the hearing so that he could obtain replacement hearing aids. He also requested that the hearing be conducted in a quieter room. Defendant Richardson, the hearing officer, denied both requests. When plaintiff questioned Richardson about his decision, Richardson “kicked [plaintiff] out of the hearing” and disciplined him with 40 days of punitive segregation, 8 months loss of commissary, 90 days loss of phone privileges, 60 days loss of jailhouse visits, and 40 days loss of good time credit. Id. at 17 (¶ 51).

         Plaintiff appealed Richardson's decision and disciplinary action to defendant Quiros, the district administrator. Quiros granted in part and denied in part plaintiff's appeal, ordering Santiago to release plaintiff from punitive segregation by June 1, 2016. Again acting in retaliation, Santiago did not release plaintiff until June 2. While in punitive segregation, plaintiff was subjected to poor ventilation and extremely cold temperatures, which caused him to suffer from allergic reactions, infections, and extreme chest pain. He had to be given special medication in addition to his regular asthma medication “to keep him alive.” Id. at 18 (¶ 52). He was denied regular access to personal hygiene products, barber services, recreation, and showers. In addition, correctional staff threw away his legal mail, and defendants Conger, Santiago, Martin, and Zegarzeski denied plaintiff access to legal books from the law library, causing plaintiff to lose two of his pro se post-judgment motions for release. Id. at 18-19 (¶ 52).

         After he was released from punitive segregation, plaintiff continued to be denied access to the phone. Santiago, Martin, Gillette, and Zegarzewski often threatened to punish plaintiff if he made too many phone calls. Gillette personally read plaintiff's incoming and outgoing mail and monitored his phone conversations. At one point, Gillette told plaintiff that he had learned about plaintiff's connections to two particular women, both of whom Gillette falsely claimed had obtained no-contact orders against plaintiff. Gillette threatened to place plaintiff in restrictive housing if he contacted the women again. Id. at 19 (¶ 52).

         After several months, plaintiff was transferred back to Osborn and placed in E-Block. Plaintiff alleges that the transfer and placement were the result of a collaborative effort by defendants Marga, Vazquez, Semple, Maldonado, Santiago, Chapdelaine, Wright, and Colon to retaliate against plaintiff for the numerous complaints and grievances he had filed throughout his incarceration. When plaintiff arrived back at Osborn, Colon “forced officers to deny [plaintiff] access to his reasonable accommodations, ” including his use of the TTY telephone. Id. at 20 (¶ 53). Colon also unlawfully went through plaintiff's medical file, obtained records regarding his medical conditions and treatment plan, and posted copies of those records in the medical unit and outside plaintiff's housing unit where other inmates and officers could read them. Plaintiff immediately complained to Gallagher and Maurer about Colon's actions. Gallagher directed Colon to take down the documents but failed to take any other remedial action. Id. at 21 (¶ 53).

         In September 2016, Maldonado, Marga, and Vazquez transferred plaintiff back to Corrigan in an act of retaliation. When he arrived at Corrigan, plaintiff was notified that he was being immediately sent back to Osborn. Within 24 hours, he arrived back at Osborn and was placed in the B-Block unit. B-Block houses inmates who work in institutional jobs. While housed in B-Block, plaintiff was again subjected to 22-hour lockdown and denied rights and privileges afforded to other B-Block inmates. When he filed more complaints and grievances about being denied rights and privileges afforded to other B-Block inmates, defendants Maldonado, Wright, Semple, and Griffen informed him that he would have to obtain employment within the facility to receive the privileges to which he was referring. Plaintiff replied that he should be entitled to the privileges whether or not he had a job, but defendants did not respond. Id. at 21-22 (¶ 54).

         On December 12, 2016, Colon falsified a disciplinary report against plaintiff, charging him with “giving false information.” Id. at 22 (¶ 55). On January 18, 2017, Maldonado, Griffen, and Colon placed plaintiff in restrictive housing as a result of the report. A hearing was held on January 24, 2017. Defendants Lizon and Maldonado ultimately dismissed the report because Colon was not authorized to author disciplinary reports against plaintiff due to a department policy. Despite the dismissal, plaintiff was placed on high-security status in accordance with Commissioner Semple's policy that permitted supervisors to place inmates on high-security status without a hearing. Id. at 23 (¶ 55).

         On January 26, 2017, plaintiff's security level was raised from three to four, and he was transferred to MacDougall, a level-four maximum security prison where he currently resides. At MacDougall, plaintiff continues to be “targeted, oppressed, psychologically tortured, [and] retaliated [and] discriminated against.” Ibid. Plaintiff appealed his placement on high-security status to Deputy Commissioner Rinaldi. Rinaldi received plaintiff's appeal on February 2, 2017. Rinaldi denied the appeal on March 13, but plaintiff did not receive the disposition until March 24, which violated the established timeframe set by DOC. Id. at 23-24 (¶ 55).

         On February 7, 2017, defendant Santana issued plaintiff a false disciplinary report for attempting to attend gym recreation with other inmates in his unit. Santana prohibited plaintiff from going to gym recreation and charged him with flagrant disobedience. Plaintiff was forced under duress to plead guilty to the offense, which led to his placement in Q-pod, a punitive segregation housing unit. Plaintiff alleges that this placement was a result of a discriminatory policy created by defendants Chapdelaine, Santana, and Dousis to restrict gym recreation to certain inmates only. Furthermore, he alleges that defendants Santana, Chapdelaine, Roy, and Collins created an “unconstitutionally systematic tactic to punish [plaintiff] [and] unjustly place him in” a restrictive housing unit by forcing him to plead guilty to the disciplinary charge. Plaintiff alleges that Commissioner Semple is aware of this conduct and has done nothing to rectify it. Id. at 24-25 (¶ 56).

         After plaintiff was placed in Q-pod, he immediately notified correctional staff that there were no medical emergency call boxes in the unit and that, because of his medical conditions and disabilities, he was only supposed to be housed in a unit with a medical emergency call box. As a result, plaintiff was transferred to M-pod, a general population unit with medical emergency call boxes inside the cells. But when defendants Chapdelaine and Hall found out that plaintiff had left Q-pod, they convinced defendant Leightner, the health services administrator, to authorize his removal from M-pod and place him back in Q-pod. Id. at 26 (¶ 57).

         In late February 2017, plaintiff received another false disciplinary report accusing him of attempting to use the phone without authorization. Defendants Chapdelaine, Gonzalez, Rule, Roy, and Congelos then employed a “systematic tactic” to punish plaintiff by forcing him into a restrictive housing unit for 15 days prior to his hearing on the disciplinary report, intentionally delaying his hearing (and then covering up the fact that it was untimely), finding him guilty of the disciplinary violation, and then sentencing him to 15 days of punitive segregation, 30 days loss of recreation, and 90 days loss of phone. Plaintiff appealed the decision on the report to defendant Quiros, who denied the appeal. While housed in the restrictive Q-pod, plaintiff was denied rights and privileges afforded to other general population inmates, including gym recreation and sufficient time outside of his cell. Plaintiff alleges that Chapdelaine is keeping plaintiff housed in Q-pod as a form of retaliatory punishment, and both Semple and Quiros are aware of Chapdelaine's actions.

         Plaintiff claims that defendants violated his rights under the First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. He seeks monetary relief in the amount of ten million dollars. He has named 33 ...

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