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Brown v. Semple

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

September 13, 2017

KENYA BROWN, Plaintiff,
SCOTT SEMPLE, et al., Defendants.



         The plaintiff, Kenya Brown (“Brown”), incarcerated and pro se, has filed a complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Department of Correction (“DOC”) Commissioner Scott Semple, Dr. Elizabeth Coursen, Dr. Paul Chaplin, Dr. Berger, Nurse Jane Ventrella, “C.S.W.” Matthew Green, Deputy Warden Jeffery Zegerzewski, Counselor Michelle King, Lieutenant Paulsinski, Warden Antonio Santiago, Dr. Joslyn Cruz, Dr. Henry Crabb, and Nurse Nicole Karabestos for violating his rights under the First Amendment, Eighth Amendment, and the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 (“PREA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 15601-15609. Brown is suing all defendants in their individual capacities except Semple, who is being sued in his official capacity. Brown seeks declaratory, injunctive, and monetary relief. On August 17, 2017, Magistrate Judge William I. Garfinkel, granted Brown's motion to proceed in forma pauperis. For the following reasons, I dismiss the complaint in part.

         I. Standard of Review

         Under section 1915A of Title 28 of the United States Code, I 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. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b). 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.” Twombly, 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

         The complaint sets forth the following allegations. In 2014, while incarcerated at Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Institution in Uncasville, Connecticut, Brown was assigned to mental health treatment and therapy with Dr. Coursen. Over the course of the next two years, Coursen drugged and sexually abused Brown during their scheduled appointments. During the first few sessions, she told Brown that she wanted to end each session on “good terms” by hugging Brown and kissing him on the cheek. Coursen also gave Brown literature to read on Sigmund Freud and other materials discussing repressed sexuality. Over time, her behavior progressed to making sexual advances on Brown and, eventually, sexual assault. In December 2014, Coursen felt Brown's penis and performed oral sex on him.

         In January 2015, after engaging in oral sex with Coursen for the third time, Brown refused treatment, which prompted Coursen to write letters to Brown, suggesting that he “lacked consideration for her circumstance, and need not be jealous or upset.” She also wrote that Brown “had no right to judge her” because of rumors that she was having extra-marital affairs. Brown did not respond to her letters.

         In February 2015, Brown saw Coursen again and was “manipulated into [partaking] in vaginal sex by way of penetration.” After acknowledging that Brown was uncomfortable performing sexual acts with her, Coursen suggested that Brown undergo hypnosis. She also presented gifts to Brown and often had him ingest Klonopin, which she told him would help him “take the edge off” so that he could better perform intercourse. After engaging in sexual intercourse, Coursen often threatened Brown. She told him that her boyfriend was a correction officer and would harm him if he told anyone about their sexual encounters.

         Over time, Zegerzewski, Chaplin, Santiago, Berger, Green, and King learned about Coursen's behavior but failed to report or discipline her. Green and King specifically received complaints about Coursen's sexual misconduct and use of drugs but failed to report their findings to the proper authorities. On more than one occasion, King witnessed Brown and Coursen seated in the dark in Coursen's office. During those times, Coursen would conduct therapeutic hypnosis and make sexual gestures. Lieutenant Paulsinski also learned of Coursen's behavior but failed to report it. Eventually, Green complained about what he had learned to Coursen's supervisor, Dr. Crabb. However, Crabb refused to report Coursen or take any steps to protect Brown or any other inmates from her behavior. The failure of Crabb, Zegerzewski, Chaplin, Santiago, Berger, Green, King, and Paulsinski to report or take any preventative measures in response to Coursen's behavior enabled Coursen to continue sexually abusing Brown.

         Brown often tried to avoid his therapy sessions with Coursen. He also submitted complaints to Chaplin about her behavior well into 2016, but Chaplin took no action to help Brown and, often times, engaged in actions “to deter” Brown's efforts to file said complaints. When Brown continued to file complaints, Nurses Ventrella and Karabestos “conspired with” Chaplin and Berger to deter his efforts by taking possession of his written complaints, thereby preventing them from being addressed.

         After learning that Brown had sought redress for his problems with Coursen, Chaplin, Berger, and Dr. Cruz assigned him to Dr. Mark Frane, another psychologist with whom Brown had a conflict of interest. Chaplin, Cruz, and Berger knew that Frane had been “indifferent to inmates.” Chaplin's, Cruz's, and Berger's “deliberate indifferen[ce] to [Brown's] psychological needs . . . caused [him] to suffer a sever[e] addiction to Klonopin, and mental anguish.”

         III. Analysis

         Brown has raised multiple counts of constitutional and statutory violations against the thirteen named defendants, many of which overlap. I will address each of his claims separately.

         A. Eighth Amendment Sexual Abuse

         Brown first claims that Coursen sexually abused him, in violation of his Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment. “The Eighth Amendment protects prisoners from cruel and unusual punishment by prison officials.” Crawford v. Cuomo, 796 F.3d 252, 256 (2d Cir. 2015). To state an Eighth Amendment claim, a prisoner must allege that the defendants acted with “a subjectively sufficiently culpable state of mind” and “that the conduct was ...

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