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Farrow v. Martinez

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

December 27, 2017

CHRISTOPHER FARROW, Plaintiff,
v.
LT. MARTINEZ, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          Jeffrey Alker Meyer, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Christopher Farrow filed this lawsuit after he was subject to discipline for threatening a prison counselor. Plaintiff claims that the counselor falsely charged him with threatening her in retaliation for his having filed a complaint against her. Plaintiff further claims that three more correctional officials violated his due process rights during the subsequent disciplinary hearing against him. Defendants have now filed an unopposed motion for summary judgment, and I will grant defendants' motion on the basis of their showing that no genuine fact issues remain for trial.

         Background

         The facts set forth below are drawn from defendants' submissions that are based in the record and that have not been contradicted by plaintiff. See D. Conn. L. Civ. R. 56(a)(1). At the time of the events giving rise to this case, plaintiff was a pretrial detainee at the New Haven Correctional Center. Defendant Chanessa Bent was the counselor in plaintiff's housing unit. Bent's duties included assisting inmates with legal calls, property, visitation, classification issues, and inmate requests.

         On the afternoon of February 17, 2015, Bent was in her office, which was connected to the housing unit. Another inmate was in the office completing a legal call. Bent heard someone knocking on her door. She opened the door so that the inmate who had been making the legal call could leave. Plaintiff was standing outside the door. He asked Bent for an inmate account statement. Bent denied the request because plaintiff had not submitted a request for the printout. Plaintiff was not permitted to be in Bent's office or in that corridor of the housing unit, absent a request from Bent.

         As Bent was closing the door, plaintiff began pushing on the door to keep it open. Bent was able to close the door but could not lock it because plaintiff was applying pressure to the door. Bent reopened the door to order plaintiff to leave the area and return to his cell. Plaintiff was acting aggressively and shouted, “I go to seg for fucking up bitches like you. I won't be in jail forever.” Doc. #43-3 at 3. Interpreting plaintiff's actions and statement as a physical threat to her safety, Bent called a unit officer who ordered plaintiff to go into the day room.

         Bent issued plaintiff a disciplinary report for threats. Plaintiff received a copy of the disciplinary report that day. Prior to this incident, Bent was not aware that plaintiff had filed any grievances. Bent had also permitted plaintiff to make additional legal calls beyond the two calls permitted in the month.

         Defendant Freddy Martinez was the disciplinary hearing officer assigned to plaintiff's charge. His practice prior to each hearing was to review all hearing paperwork provided by the disciplinary investigator and watch any relevant video recordings. During any hearing, Martinez would have the disciplinary investigator read aloud the disciplinary report, the inmate's statement, any witness statements, and the disciplinary investigator's report. If the inmate had an advocate, the advocate would read aloud the advocate's statement and any witness statements collected by the advocate. Martinez would then ask the inmate whether he pleaded guilty or not guilty. If the inmate pleaded not guilty, the inmate would be permitted to speak on his own behalf. Martinez would then make a finding based on the evidence and tell the inmate the finding, the basis for the finding, and, if the inmate was found guilty, the sanctions imposed. The inmate would then be told that he had fifteen days to appeal the decision to the district administrator.

         Plaintiff's disciplinary hearing was held on February 25, 2015. Plaintiff declined the services of an advocate. He requested and received a written statement from an inmate witness. Prior to the hearing, Martinez reviewed all of the evidence. The disciplinary investigator read the evidence aloud at the hearing, and plaintiff presented his defense.

         The evidence consisted of four written statements and an investigator's report. Plaintiff's statement contained his version of events. In his statement, plaintiff claimed that Bent denied him access to his prisoner account statement, and he threatened to sue or report her to a superior. He further stated that Bent called him a snitch, and he retreated with his hands raised. Plaintiff denied threatening Bent. A fellow inmate drafted a statement narrating a similar version of the incident.

         The evidence also included the disciplinary report submitted by Bent wherein she described how plaintiff tried to enter her office and uttered the threatening remark to her. A correctional officer submitted a statement that he heard plaintiff become “irate” when Bent refused to speak with him and went to the corridor adjacent to Bent's office to retrieve plaintiff and return him to the day room. Doc. #43-6 at 16. The investigator's report noted that plaintiff threatened Bent and that the “verbal statement caused fear in the reporting employee.” Id. at 11.

         Martinez found plaintiff guilty and sanctioned him with fifteen days in punitive segregation, fifteen days confined to quarters, and sixty days loss of phone privileges. The guilty finding was based on “staff observation and documentation.” Id. at 19. Martinez further noted that “[t]he inmate verbal statement caused fear in the staff member.” Ibid. Plaintiff received a copy of the disciplinary process summary report the same day.

         Defendant Peter Murphy reviewed plaintiff's disciplinary appeal and determined that there was no evidence to support his claims. Defendant Angel Quiros also reviewed the disciplinary appeal and found that the hearing officer's finding was reasonable based on the information and evidence ...


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