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Ortiz v. Bennett

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

August 8, 2017

LUIS G. ORTIZ, Plaintiff,
v.
BENNETT, et al., Defendants.

          INITIAL REVIEW ORDER

          Jeffrey Alker Meyer United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Luis G. Ortiz is a prisoner at MacDougall Correctional Institution in the custody of the Connecticut Department of Correction. He has filed a complaint pro se and in forma pauperis under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against four defendants in their individual and official capacities: Remedy Coordinator Bennett, Lieutenant Williams, and Correctional Officers Duchette and Vassell. Plaintiff alleges defendants used excessive force in violation of the Eighth Amendment when they forced him into too-tight handcuffs and “bounced” his head against a wall. After an initial review, the Court concludes that the complaint should be dismissed as to defendant Bennett and be served on the remaining defendants.

         Background

         The following allegations from plaintiff's complaint are accepted as true for purposes of this ruling. Plaintiff was a sentenced prisoner confined at MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution at the time of the incident underlying the complaint. On February 16, 2016, plaintiff was speaking with his mother on the unit telephone when a recall was issued. Doc. #1 at 7. Plaintiff terminated his call and proceeded to walk from the telephone banks at the front of the housing unit to his cell at the back of the housing unit. Plaintiff entered his cell and waited for staff to close the cell door.

         Shortly after the cell door was closed, plaintiff heard defendant Duchette direct the control officer to open plaintiff's cell door. Plaintiff's cellmate was escorted to the unit's medical area, where he was handcuffed and placed face-first against the wall. Doc. #1 at 7 (¶ 36). Plaintiff was then ordered to exit his cell. Once he did, Duchette grabbed him and pushed his face against the wall. Defendant Williams pressed a can containing a chemical agent against plaintiff's face. When plaintiff questioned these actions, Williams told plaintiff he would explain when plaintiff got to restrictive housing. Id. at 7-8 (¶¶ 37-39).

         Defendants Vassell and Duchette used Vassell's forearm to “bounce” plaintiff's face against the wall. They also twisted his wrists until plaintiff heard something “pop” in his left wrist. Plaintiff experienced severe pain and began “seeing stars.” Id. at 8 (¶¶ 41-43). The defendants laughed at his cries of pain. Defendants then placed handcuffs on plaintiff's wrists, clamping them tight enough to cause lacerations and dripping blood. Id. at ¶ 44. Defendants then escorted plaintiff to restrictive housing, and, after plaintiff was strip-searched and placed in a restrictive housing cell, the handcuffs were removed. An additional, unidentified officer carrying a hand-held video camera recorded the walk to the restrictive housing unit. Shortly thereafter, Williams and Vassell photographed plaintiff's injuries to his wrist, and he was examined by Nurse Diaz. Id. at 8-9 (¶¶ 45-47).

         About ten minutes later, Williams and his supervisor, Captain Baymon, came to plaintiff's cell. Williams said that there had been a mistake, plaintiff had done nothing wrong, and plaintiff would be released from restrictive housing and returned to his unit. No further explanation of the incident has been provided to plaintiff. Following the incident, plaintiff began seeking mental health treatment for anxiety caused by the incident. He also has suffered permanent nerve damage. Id. at 9 (¶¶ 48-54).

         Plaintiff submitted an institutional grievance regarding this incident. When he received no response he questioned defendant Bennett, the Administrative Remedies Coordinator. Defendant Bennett denied receiving the grievance. Id. at 5-6.

         Discussion

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a), 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. The Court must accept as true all factual matters alleged in a complaint, although a complaint may not survive unless its factual recitations state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. See, e.g., Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009); Mastafa v. Chevron Corp., 770 F.3d 170, 177 (2d Cir. 2014). Nevertheless, it is well-established that “pro 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).

         In recent years, the Supreme Court has set forth a threshold “plausibility” pleading standard for courts to evaluate the adequacy of federal court complaints. A complaint must allege enough facts-as distinct from legal conclusions-that give rise to plausible grounds for relief. See, e.g., Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678; Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).

         Notwithstanding the rule of liberal interpretation of a pro se complaint, a pro se complaint may not survive dismissal if its factual allegations do not meet the basic plausibility standard. See, e.g., Fowlkes v. Ironworkers Local 40, 790 F.3d 378, 387 (2d Cir. 2015).

         Plaintiff's allegations support a claim for use of excessive force against defendants Williams, Vassell, and Duchette. As with all Eighth Amendment claims, excessive force claims have subjective and objective components. The subjective component focuses on “the defendant's motive for his conduct”; the objective component focuses “on the conduct's effect.” Wright v. Goord, 554 F.3d 255, 268 (2d Cir. 2009). In excessive force cases, the “core judicial inquiry” is “whether force was applied in a good faith effort to maintain or restore discipline, or maliciously and sadistically to cause harm.” Wilkins v. Gaddy, 559 U.S. 34, 37 (2010) (per curiam) (quoting Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 7 (1992) (internal quotation marks omitted)). The use of excessive force against a prisoner can constitute cruel and unusual punishment regardless of whether the inmate suffers serious injuries. See Hudson, 503 U.S. at 4; accord Wilkins, 559 U.S. at 34, 36.

         Plaintiff alleges that Vassell and Duchette used excessive force against him by pushing him against the wall, bouncing his head against the wall, twisting his wrists and applying the handcuffs so tight that his wrists began bleeding. Williams effectively condoned this conduct while threatening plaintiff with a chemical agent. Plaintiff has sufficiently alleged actions that indicate a malicious desire to cause harm rather than a good faith effort to maintain discipline. Wilkins, 559 U.S. at 36. First, plaintiff alleges that defendants laughed at him when he cried out in pain. Second, defendants' alleged “bouncing” of plaintiff's head against a wall while plaintiff was already immobilized served no apparent disciplinary purpose. In the context of such malicious ...


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