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Ramirez v. Allen

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

October 20, 2017

FELIX RAMIREZ, Plaintiff,
v.
ALLEN, et al., Defendants.

          INITIAL REVIEW ORDER

          Michael P. Shea United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Felix Ramirez, currently incarcerated at the MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution in Suffield, Connecticut, filed this case pro se under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 asserting claims for various federal and state constitutional rights and state tort law. The plaintiff names twenty-seven defendants: Deputy Warden Guadarrama, Lieutenants Williams and Richardson, Captains Claudio and Hall, Correctional Officers Allen, Nordby, and Dubuque, Nurses Dionne Botas and Tawanna Furtick, Nursing Supervisor Heidi Greene, Blatchelly, and fifteen John Doe defendants. All defendants are named in individual and official capacities. The complaint was received by the Court on August 7, 2017. The plaintiff's motion to proceed in forma pauperis was granted on August 10, 2017. (ECF No. 6.)

         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. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. In reviewing a pro se complaint, the Court must assume the truth of the factual allegations, and interpret them liberally to “raise the strongest arguments [they] suggest[].” Abbas v. Dixon, 480 F.3d 636, 639 (2d Cir. 2007). 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 plausible 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, 101-2 (2d Cir. 2010) (discussing special rules of solicitude for pro se litigants).

         I. Allegations

         During the last week of October 2015, while the plaintiff was returning from vocational education, defendant Allen performed a pat-down search on the plaintiff. During the search, she inappropriately touched his buttocks and genitals. Following this search, the plaintiff learned that defendant Allen had done this before and that some instances had been reported. Although informed of this conduct, defendant Guadarrama did not discipline defendant Allen or otherwise control her behavior.

         On October 30, 2015, defendants Allen and Nordby were conducting the pat-down searches of inmates returning from vocational education. The plaintiff waited to have defendant Nordby conduct his search. Defendant Allen motioned for the plaintiff to come to her to be searched. The plaintiff explained to defendant Nordby that he did not want defendant Allen to search him because she had previously groped his genitals and buttocks. Although she heard the plaintiff's objection, defendant Allen ordered the plaintiff to go to her to be searched, and defendant Nordby did not intervene. Defendant Allen again touched the plaintiff inappropriately. The plaintiff told defendant Allen that he was going to report the misconduct. Shortly thereafter, defendant Allen prepared a disciplinary report for the plaintiff's failure to obey direct orders.

         Upon returning to his housing unit, the plaintiff asked a correctional officer to contact the lieutenant so he could make a PREA (Prison Rape Elimination Act) report against defendant Allen. The plaintiff went to the lieutenant's office where he was surrounded by 10-12 high-ranking correctional officers. The plaintiff described the incidents and asked for a state police investigation. Defendant Williams asked why the plaintiff had not reported the first incident. The plaintiff stated that he thought it might have been unintentional and feared retaliation. Defendant John Doe 1 told the plaintiff that defendant Allen was doing her job, and the plaintiff had to permit it. The plaintiff does not believe that the state police were contacted. He does not allege that he made any attempt to contact the state police himself.

         That afternoon, defendant Botas interviewed the plaintiff in the medical unit. The plaintiff stated that he felt upset and violated and requested mental health assistance. Defendant Botas contacted the on-call doctor, Dr. John Doe 2, and her supervisor, defendant Greene, but did not return and did not follow-up with mental health assistance.

         Defendant Williams and defendant officers Does 3, 4, 5, and 6 placed handcuffs on the plaintiff “extra tight from behind.” ECF No. 1 at 3, ¶ 32. When the plaintiff complained of pain, the officers lifted his arms causing more pain. The plaintiff was escorted to the restrictive housing unit on administrative detention status. When the plaintiff fell to the floor, defendant Williams ordered the cuffs loosened, but they remained tight and painful.

         Defendant Furtick responded to the plaintiff's request for medical attention in the restrictive housing unit. The plaintiff complained of bruising and abrasions on his wrists. After examining the plaintiff's wrists, defendant Furtick refused to photograph the injuries or provide any treatment. The plaintiff refused to sign the medical incident report because defendant Furtick had written that no injuries were reported or noted as a result of the handcuff placement. Defendant Williams was present but did not correct this misstatement.

         The plaintiff remained on administrative detention status in restrictive housing for nineteen days. On November 24, 2015, the plaintiff submitted a request for health services review. Defendant Greene never responded to the request.

         On October 31, 2015, the plaintiff's second day in restrictive housing, he received a disciplinary report for disobeying a direct order. The plaintiff pleaded not guilty and requested defendants Allen and Nordby as witnesses. Defendant Richardson was the disciplinary hearing officer. At the disciplinary hearing, the plaintiff again requested his witnesses, but defendant Richardson denied the request. The plaintiff was found guilty of the charge. In the decision, defendant Richardson stated that the plaintiff had admitted that he refused to allow defendant Allen to search him. The plaintiff alleges this was a mischaracterization of his statement at the hearing. His sanctions included forfeiture of five days of Risk Reduction Earned Credit. The disciplinary finding was upheld on appeal.

         In late April 2016, the plaintiff was assigned a new cellmate, inmate Dobson. When the plaintiff questioned the change, defendants Does 7 and 8 told him that they were following orders and suggested that he speak to the captains and deputy warden. Inmate Dobson appeared paranoid and irritable. He randomly shouted at the plaintiff in a threatening and intimidating manner and was unclean and messy. The plaintiff heard Correctional Officer Thompson refer to inmate Dobson by the nickname “psycho.” The plaintiff believed that inmate Dobson was mentally ill and had been placed in the plaintiff's cell in retaliation for his PREA complaints.

         On April 30, 2016, the plaintiff wrote to defendant Blatchelly expressing fears for his safety because inmate Dobson was mentally ill. Defendant Blatchelly denied the plaintiff's request for cell transfer, stating that the facility did not accommodate request for convenience transfers. On May 7, 2016, when the cell door opened for breakfast, inmate Dobson was startled and threatened to kill the plaintiff. The plaintiff went to the control area and asked to be taken to restrictive housing for his protection. Defendant Doe 9 contacted the lieutenant, then told the plaintiff to return to his cell to wait for the lieutenant. The plaintiff begged to be placed in restrictive housing, but defendant Doe 9 ordered him to return to his cell.

         The plaintiff returned to his cell. However, it was nearly time for the shift change, and no supervisor came to his cell. Later that morning, inmate Dobson struck the plaintiff in the face and head with a hard plastic coffee mug. The plaintiff got inmate Dobson in a bear hug, brought him face down to the floor, and held him to stop the attack. The plaintiff suffered a 2” laceration from his eyebrow to his nose and a lump on his head.

         Defendant Dubuque ordered the plaintiff to release inmate Dobson. The plaintiff asked defendant Dubuque to open the door, stating that he was holding inmate Dobson to prevent inmate Dobson from attacking him. Lieutenant Doe 10 ordered the door opened. The plaintiff released inmate Dobson. Without warning, Lieutenant Doe 10 sprayed the plaintiff in the face with a chemical agent. The plaintiff immediately lay on the floor, face down, with arms spread out and palms open. Three John Doe officers, Does 11, 12, and 13, entered the cell and jumped on the plaintiff's back and kicked him in the ribs. The plaintiff offered no resistance. One officer twisted the plaintiff's arm, hand and thumb behind his back. Lieutenant Doe 10 supervised the incident and did not intervene. Defendant Doe 14 filmed the incident and did not intervene. The plaintiff was decontaminated and his laceration treated in the medical unit. He then was transported to the University of Connecticut Health Center and treated for fractures to his left ribs and right thumb. The plaintiff requested, but was not provided, mental health treatment.

         Defendant Dubuque issued the plaintiff a disciplinary report for fighting. The plaintiff was found guilty. He does not know what sanctions were imposed. The plaintiff believes that the finding was upheld on appeal. Defendant Claudio did not respond to the plaintiff's request for a copy of the appeal decision or his complaints regarding the placement of inmate Dobson in his cell and defendant Blatchelly's actions. After being transferred to a different housing unit, the plaintiff resubmitted his requests. Defendant Hall refused to investigate and ripped up the requests.

         II. Analysis

         The plaintiff identifies the following claims: (1) Fourth and Eighth Amendment claims against defendants Allen and Guadarrama for the PREA violation and the failure to take action despite similar reports against defendant Allen; (2) failure to protect against defendant Nordby; (3) retaliation and defamation claims against defendant Allen for issuance of the disciplinary report; (4) denial of due process, denial of equal protection, and racial discrimination for the actions of defendants Williams and Doe 1 regarding his reporting of the PREA violation; (5) deliberate indifference to serious mental health needs against defendants Botas, Greene and Doctor Doe 2 for failing to provide mental health treatment upon request; (6) retaliation, excessive force, assault, battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress against defendants Williams and Does 3, 4, 5, and 6 relating to handcuffing during the plaintiff's escort to restrictive housing; (7) deliberate indifference to medical needs and intentional infliction of emotional distress against defendants Furtick and Williams for refusal to acknowledge injury from the handcuffs; (8) retaliation, denial of due process, defamation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress against defendants Richardson and Claudio based on the disciplinary report for failing to obey a direct order; (9) retaliation and deliberate indifference against defendants Does 7 and 8 for placing inmate Dobson in plaintiff's cell; (10) intentional infliction of emotional distress against “the higher ranking aforementioned defendants” for placing inmate Dobson in plaintiff's cell; (11) failure to protect against defendant Blatchelly; (12) failure to protect and intentional infliction of emotional distress against defendant Doe 9 for ordering the plaintiff back to his cell; (13) excessive force, assault, battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress against defendants Gradarrama and Does 10, 11, 12, and 13 for the alleged assault and use of chemical agent; and (14) denial of due process and defamation against defendants Dubuque, Doe 14, Claudio, and Hall regarding to the disciplinary charge for fighting.

         A. Sections 1985(3) and 1986

         Throughout the complaint, the plaintiff refers to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1985(3) and 1986). The complaint fails to allege facts to support a cognizable claim under either statute. Section 1985(3) prohibits conspiracies motivated by racial or otherwise class-based invidious discriminatory animus. Iqbal v. Hasty, 490 F.3d 143, 176 (2d Cir. 2007), rev'd on other grounds sub nom. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 62 (2009). Section 1985(3) may not be construed as a “general federal tort law.” Griffin v. Breckenridge, 403 U.S. 88, 101-2 (1971). The plaintiff repeatedly states he is a light-skinned Latino or Hispanic male while the defendants are Caucasian. He attributes the actions of the defendants, however, to the fact that he complained about defendant Allen's actions, not his race or class. The mere fact that the plaintiff and defendants are of different races is insufficient to demonstrate the required racial or class-based discrimination. Thus, the plaintiff fails to state a plausible Section 1985 claim. See, e.g., Swanson v. City of New York, No. 16-CV-3231(MKB), 2017 WL 3130322, at *8 (E.D.N.Y. July 21, 2017) (unsubstantiated allegations of collaboration or understanding insufficient to demonstrate meeting of the minds required for conspiracy claim (citing cases)). The section 1985(3) claim is dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1).

         Section 1986 provides no substantive rights; it merely provides a remedy for the violation of section 1985. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 222 n.28 (1970) (Brennan, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part). Thus, a prerequisite for an actionable section 1986 claim is a cognizable section 1985 claim. Brown v. City of Oneonta, 221 F.3d 329, 341 (2d Cir. 2000), overruled in part on other grounds by Gonzaga Univ. v. Doe, 536 U.S. 273 (2002). As the plaintiff has not asserted a cognizable Section 1985 claim, his Section 1986 claim fails and is dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Section 1915A(b)(1).

         B. Due Process

         The plaintiff asserts due process claims relating to two disciplinary proceedings. He alleges that, in each case, his sanctions included forfeiture of Risk Reduction Earned Credit. Because the plaintiff was subjected to “mixed sanctions, ” i.e., sanctions affecting both the duration and the conditions of his confinement, his due process claims are barred by the favorable termination rule set forth in Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994).

         In Heck, the Supreme Court held that a claim for money damages is not cognizable under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 if a decision in favor of the plaintiff would necessarily invalidate a criminal conviction unless that “conviction or sentence has been reversed on direct appeal, expunged by executive order, declared invalid by a state tribunal ..., or called into question by a federal court's issuance of a writ of habeas corpus.” 512 U.S. at 486-87 (citation omitted). The Supreme Court later extended the favorable termination rule to Section 1983 ...


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