United States District Court, D. Connecticut
DAVID A. ABRAMS, No. 241224, a/k/a ABRAHAMS, Plaintiff,
CORRECTIONS OFFICER WATERS AND CAPT. NUNEZ, sued in their individual capacities; CORRECTIONS OFFICER PHILLIPS; DISCIPLINARY REPORT INVESTIGATOR KELLY; CAPT. JOHN WATSON; WARDEN SCOTT ERFE; MAINTENANCE SUPERVISOR JOHN DOE; and MAILROOM HANDLER CORRECTIONS OFFICER RAMIREZ, sued in their individual and official capacity, Defendants.
INITIAL REVIEW ORDER
CHARLES S. HAIGHT, JR. SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
se plaintiff David A. Abrams, currently incarcerated at
the Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Institution
("Corrigan") in Uncasville, Connecticut, has
brought this civil rights action against various prison
officials and employees of Cheshire Correctional Institution
("Cheshire C.I."), the prison where he was formerly
housed, in Cheshire, Connecticut. The defendants include
Corrections Officer Waters, Captain Nunez, Corrections
Officer Phillips, Investigator Kelly, Captain Watson, Warden
Erfe, Supervisor John Doe, and Corrections Officer Ramirez
(herein collectively "Defendants"). Abrams is suing
Waters and Nunez in their individual capacities and all other
defendants in their individual and official capacities. He is
seeking monetary damages and declaratory relief.
respect to procedural history, Magistrate Judge Garfinkel
granted Abrams's motion to proceed in forma
pauperis on October 13, 2017. See Doc. 5. The
Court now reviews Abrams's Complaint to determine whether
his claims are "frivolous" or may proceed under 28
U.S.C. § 1915A. For the following reasons, the Court
dismisses his complaint in part.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the Court must review a
prisoner's civil complaint and dismiss any portion that
"(1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim
upon which relief may be granted; or (2) seeks monetary
relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief."
See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1)-(2). Although
highly detailed allegations are not required, the complaint
"must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as
true, to 'state a claim that is plausible on its
face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662,
678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly,
550 U.S 544, 570 (2007)). "A claim has facial plausibility
when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the
court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is
liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556
U.S. at 678. The complaint must provide "more than the
accusation." Id. "A pleading that offers
'labels and conclusions' or 'a formulaic
recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not
do.'" Id. (quoting Twombly, 550
U.S. at 555).
a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will
[ultimately] . . . be a context-specific task that requires
the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and
common sense." Id. at 663-64. When
"well-pleaded factual allegations" are present,
"a court should assume their veracity and then determine
whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to
relief." Id. at 679. Factual disputes do not
factor into a plausibility analysis under Iqbal and
all allegations contained in the complaint are assumed to be
true, this tenet is `inapplicable to legal
conclusions.'" LaMagna v. Brown, 474
Fed.Appx. 788, 789 (2d Cir. 2012) (quoting Iqbal,
556 U.S. at 678). See also Amaker v. New York State Dept.
of Corr. Servs., 435 Fed.Appx. 52, 54 (2d Cir. 2011)
(same). Accordingly, the Court is not "bound to accept
conclusory allegations or legal conclusions masquerading as
factual conclusions." Faber v. Metro. Life Ins.
Co., 648 F.3d 98, 104 (2d Cir. 2011) (quoting Rolon
v. Henneman, 517 F.3d 140, 149 (2d Cir. 2008) (internal
quotation marks omitted)). Consequently, "[t]hreadbare
recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by
mere conclusory statements, do not suffice."
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550
U.S. at 555).
respect to pro se litigants, it is well-established
that "[p]ro se submissions are
reviewed with special solicitude, and 'must be construed
liberally and interpreted to raise the strongest arguments
that they suggest.'" Matheson v. Deutsche Bank
Nat'l Tr. Co., 706 Fed.Appx. 24, 26 (2d Cir. 2017)
(quoting Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 470
F.3d 471, 474 (2d Cir. 2006)(per curiam)). See also Sykes
v. Bank of Am., 723 F.3d 399, 403 (2d Cir. 2013)
(same); Tracy v. Freshwater, 623 F.3d 90, 101-02 (2d
Cir. 2010) (discussing special rules of solicitude for
pro se litigants); Boykin v.
KeyCorp., 521 F.3d 202, 214 (2d Cir. 2008) ("A
document filed pro se is to be liberally construed
and a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded,
must be held to less stringent standards than formal
pleadings drafted by lawyers.") (quoting Erickson v.
Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007)); Sealed Plaintiff v.
Sealed Defendant, 537 F.3d 185, 191 (2d Cir. 2008)
(Where the plaintiff proceeds pro se, a court is
"obliged to construe his pleadings liberally.")
(quoting McEachin v. McGuinnis, 357 F.3d 197, 200
(2d Cir. 2004)); Abbas v. Dixon, 480 F.3d 636, 639
(2d Cir. 2007) ("In reviewing a pro se
complaint, the court must assume the truth of the
allegations, and interpret them liberally to "raise the
strongest arguments [they] suggest.").
being subject to liberal interpretation, a pro se
plaintiff's complaint still must "state a claim to
relief that is plausible on its face." Mancuso v.
Hynes, 379 Fed.Appx. 60, 61 (2d Cir. 2010) (quoting
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). Therefore, even in a
pro se case, "threadbare recitals of the
elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory
statements, do not suffice." Chavis v.
Chappius, 618 F.3d 162, 170 (2d Cir. 2010) (citation and
internal quotation marks omitted). Nor may the Court
"invent factual allegations" that the plaintiff has
not pleaded. Id.
April and May of 2017, while incarcerated at Cheshire C.I.,
Abrams wrote to his Unit Manager, Captain Nunez, requesting
that he be moved out of the cell he shared with "high
security" inmate William Carrilli, who was "well
known for his racist views." Doc. 1
("Complaint"), ¶ 57. Nunez did not act on
Abrams's request. Id. On July 6, 2017, after
Carrilli complained to Nunez that he and Abrams were not
getting along, Nunez promptly moved Abrams to an empty cell.
Id., ¶ 58. During the move, Abrams explained to
Nunez that he only had one disciplinary ticket in his file in
16 years and asked Nunez not to place another "high
security" inmate in his new cell. Id. Later
that day, Kashawn Brown, another "high security"
inmate, was placed in Abrams's cell. Id., ¶
60. Abrams protested to the cell-block correction officer,
but the officer told him that there was "nothing he
could do about it and that [Abrams] would have to talk to
Nunez about the situation." Id.
had just been transferred from Corrigan to Cheshire C.I.
after spending nearly a month in segregation for assaulting
his cellmate. Id., ¶¶ 61-62. He had been
involved in two previous fights with his cellmates over the
previous year. Id., ¶ 63.
August 4, 2017, at approximately 12:15 p.m., Brown attacked
Abrams while Abrams was sitting on his bed watching
television. Id., ¶ 16. Brown punched Abrams
multiple times on the side of his face. Id., ¶
17. Abrams became "slightly dazed" and tried to
"shake . . . off" the attack. Id. After
punching Abrams several times, Brown banged on the cell door
and screamed for an officer. Id., ¶ 18. The
officer's station was located approximately twenty feet
from Abrams's cell. Id., ¶ 19.
Officer Waters came to Abrams's cell to identify the
problem. Id., ¶ 20. Brown told Waters to
"call the code blue ([the] code for inmates fighting)
because he [was] done." Id. When Waters asked
Brown what he meant, Brown charged at Abrams again and hit
him several times in front of Waters. Id. Waters
yelled, "Code Blue! Code Blue! Stop fighting! Stop
fighting!" Id., ¶ 21. After enduring
multiple punches, Abrams stood up to defend himself, which
prompted Brown to retreat to the cell door. Id., at
¶ 22. Immediately thereafter, the cell door opened, and
officers handcuffed Brown on the floor of the unit.
Id., at ¶ 23. They did not use mace spray on
Corrections Officers Johnson and Phillips entered the cell,
Abrams stumbled forward and collided with a chair.
Id., ¶ 24. At that moment, Correction Officer
Phillips sprayed him with mace. Id. When Abrams bent
forward to cover his eyes and gasp for air, Phillips picked
him up and "slamm[ed] him to the floor causing his face
to hit the floor." Id., ¶ 25. Phillips
then proceeded to handcuff Abrams and told him to "stop
resisting, " even though Abrams was lying on the floor
coughing. Id., ¶ 26. Johnson then helped Abrams
to his feet. Id., ¶ 27. The officers
transported Abrams to the medical unit to treat his injuries
and then placed him in a segregation unit. Id.,
result of the attack, Abrams was breathing heavily, had
"an extremely elevated blood pressure, " had
"knots on the side of his face and on his forehead,
" and "severe swelling" around his eyes.
Id., ¶ 29. Captain Dimitrix and Lieutenant
Marquis witnessed the incident and questioned Abrams about
it. Id., ¶ 30. The entire incident was recorded
on camera, and the footage was preserved via request to
Correction Officer McMahon on August 6, 2017. Id.
the swelling near Plaintiff's both eyes, the nurse in the
medical unit suggested that Plaintiff's eye socket might
be fractured. Id., ¶ 31. Abrams was therefore
taken to the UCONN Health Center to be examined. Id.
arrived at the UCONN Health Center, a nurse named Lisa
informed Abrams that he might indeed have a fractured eye
socket due to the swelling without bruising. Id.,
¶ 32. Nurse Lisa arranged for Abrams to undergo a CAT
scan. Id., ¶ 33. One hour later, she informed
Abrams that he did not have a fractured eye socket but that
he had suffered a hairline fracture to his nose, causing the
swelling around his eyes.. Id., ¶ 34. Abrams
told the nurse that Brown never punched him in his nose.
Id., ¶ 35. The nurse responded that he most
likely sustained the fracture when Officer Phillips slammed
him to the floor. Id., ¶¶ 35-37. She
recommended that Abrams apply ice to his face for a few days,
placed him on a soft diet, and advised him to sleep with his
head elevated. Id., ¶ 39. She also advised
Plaintiff that he might have a concussion. Id.
arrived back at Cheshire from the UCONN Health Center, Abrams
was escorted to segregation. Id., ¶ 40. Before
placing him in the segregation unit, officers strip searched
Abrams in accordance with Cheshire C.I. policy. Id.
When asked about the strip search by another inmate in
segregation, Correction Officer Watson stated that it was
"facility policy." Id., ¶ 82.
August 7, 2017, three days after the incident, Investigator
Kelly called Abrams to his office to hear his version of the
facts and ascertain whether Abrams was going to plead guilty
to the disciplinary report for fighting. Id., ¶
41. Abrams told Kelly that the fact that a disciplinary
report had been issued against him was "crazy" and
"bogus." Id., ¶ 42. He also asked
Kelly why Officer Waters, who had been the person to witness
the attack and who had called the "code blue, " was
not the officer who wrote up the report.. Id. Abrams
also told Kelly that he "didn't fight back" and
that Waters and the camera footage would corroborate his
version. Id., ¶ 43. Kelly responded by telling
Abrams, "It doesn't work like that around here . . .
." Id., ¶ 44. Abrams then replied,
"Cut the bullshit! I've been around for a long time.
. . . The ticket is bogus." Id.
spending a week in the segregation unit, Abrams notice what
appeared to be black mold on the vent in his cell and
informed Captain Watson about it. Id., ¶ 45.
Abrams had observed such mold on the segregation cell vents
when he had been housed there five months earlier.
Id. Watson said to Abrams, "Stay out of
seg[regation] and you won't have to worry about it."
Id., ¶ 46.
August 16, 2017, while in segregation, Abrams mailed
correspondence to a referral service in an attempt to obtain
legal counsel for his civil and criminal cases. Id.,
¶ 85. The correspondence contained a brief description
of each case, including two civil cases against Cheshire
correctional staff. Id., ¶ 86. The words
"legal mail" were printed in two different places
on the envelope. Id., ¶ 87. One week later,
Abrams learned that his correspondence was returned to
Cheshire because the "post office was unable to forward
[it]'" after Plaintiff had been transferred to
Corrigan on August 23, 2017. Id., ¶ 89. A month
later, on September 13, 2017, Abrams received the
correspondence at Corrigan and discovered that the envelope
had been opened out of his presence and forwarded to him.
Id., ¶ 90.
his disciplinary hearing on August 22, 2017, Officer King
dismissed the charge against Plaintiff for fighting with
Brown. Id., ¶ 47. He based his decision on the
facts that Brown had pled guilty to assaulting Abrams and had
no injuries; Abrams had sustained injuries; and in the
absence of video footage, no one could refute Abrams's
version of the case. Id. On August 23, after
spending twenty days in segregation, Abrams was transferred
from Cheshire C.I. to Corrigan. Id., ¶ 48.
Court will assess each of Abrams's claims to determine
whether any claim "is frivolous, malicious, or fails to
state a claim upon which relief may be granted, " or a
claim that "seeks monetary relief from a defendant who
is immune from such relief." 28 U.S.C. §
Claims Against Defendants in their Official
seeks monetary relief against all defendants in their
individual and official capacities, with the exception of
Waters and Nunez, whom he is suing only in their individual
capacities. To the extent that Abrams seeks money damages
from the defendants in their official capacities, the claims
are barred by the Eleventh Amendment. See Kentucky v.
Graham, 473 U.S. 159 (1985); Quern v. Jordan,
440 U.S. 332, 342 (1979). "The Eleventh Amendment
precludes suits against states unless the state expressly
waives its immunity or Congress abrogates that
immunity." Li v. Lorenzo, No. 16-3530, 2017 WL
4410586, at *1 (2d Cir. Oct. 4, 2017) (citing CSX
Transp., Inc. v. N.Y. State Office of Real Prop. Servs.,
306 F.3d 87, 94-95 (2d Cir. 2002)). "This includes suits
against state officials in their official capacities."
Li, 2017 WL 4410586, at *1 (citing Davis v. New
York, 316 F.3d 93, 101-02 (2d Cir. 2002)). See also
Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S.
89, 101 (1984) ("The Eleventh Amendment bars a suit
against state officials when the state is the real,
substantial party in interest.") (citation and internal
quotation marks omitted); Santiago v. New York State
Dep't of Corr. Servs., 945 F.2d 25, 28 n. 1 (2d
Cir.1991) ("When the action is in essence one for the
recovery of money from the state, the state is the real,
substantial party in interest and is entitled to invoke its
sovereign immunity from suit even though individual officials
are nominal defendants.") (citation and internal
quotation marks omitted). Accordingly, claims brought against
corrections officer defendants in their official capacities
are properly dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.
contrast, as to injunctive relief, the United States Supreme
Court stated in Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. at 664
(1974), that the Eleventh Amendment does not bar an action
against a state official for violation of federal law if the
plaintiff seeks an injunction regarding that official's
future conduct. See also Feng Li v. Rabner, 643
Fed.Appx. 57, 57-59 (2d Cir. 2016) ("As to the
individual defendants, generally, state officials are not
immune under the Eleventh Amendment if the "complaint
alleges an ongoing violation of federal law and seeks relief
properly characterized as prospective.") (quoting
Verizon Maryland, Inc. v. Pub. Serv. Comm'n of
Maryland, 535 U.S. 635, 645 (2002)) (internal quotation
marks omitted). However, Plaintiff does not request
injunctive relief against any of the state official
defendants. Accordingly, all of Plaintiff's claims
against the defendants in their official capacities are
hereby DISMISSED pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(2).
Claims Against Erfe, Doe, and Ramirez
Complaint, Abrams names Warden Erfe, Supervisor Doe, and
Officer Ramirez as defendants with respect to his alleged
constitutional deprivations. Plaintiff does not, however,
allege that any of these three supervisory defendants was
personally involved in the acts giving rise to these claims.
Rather, he appears to sue them based merely on their
positions as supervisors at Cheshire C.I.
is well settled . . . that personal involvement of defendants
in alleged constitutional deprivations is a prerequisite to
an award of damages under § 1983.” Wright v.
Smith, 21 F.3d 496, 501 (2d Cir. 1994) (citation and
internal quotation marks omitted); see also Johnson v.
Glick, 481 F.2d 1028, 1034 (2d Cir. 1973) (doctrine of
respondeat superior does not suffice for claim of
monetary damages under § 1983). A plaintiff who sues a
supervisory official in his individual capacity for monetary
damages must allege that the official was "personally
involved" in the constitutional deprivation in one of
four ways: (1) the official directly participated in the
deprivation; (2) the official learned about the deprivation
through a report or appeal and failed to remedy the wrong;
(3) the official created or perpetuated a policy or custom
under which unconstitutional practices occurred; or (4) the
official was grossly negligent in managing subordinates who
caused the unlawful condition or event. Wright, 21
F.3d at 501; Hernandez v. Keane, 341 F.3d 137, 145
(2d Cir. 2003). "In addition, supervisory liability may
be imposed where an official demonstrates gross negligence or
deliberate indifference to the constitutional rights of
inmates by failing to act on information indicating that
unconstitutional practices are taking place."
Wright, 21 F.3d at 501 (citation and internal
quotation marks omitted). Therefore, in order to state
plausible claims against these three supervisory officials,
Abrams must allege a causal link between the conduct of the
supervisory officials, or lack thereof, and his injury.
See Poe v. Leonard, 282 F.3d 123, 140 (2d Cir.
case at bar, Abrams fails to allege that Erfe, Doe, and
Ramirez were involved in, or even knew about, the
constitutional violations for which he seeks to hold them
liable. See Meriwether v. Coughlin, 879 F.2d 1037,
1048 (2d Cir. 1989) (to impose supervisory liability prisoner
must allege that official had "actual or constructive
notice of unconstitutional practices and demonstrate[d]
'gross negligence' or 'deliberate
indifference' by failing to act") (quoting
McCann v. Coughlin, 698 F.2d 112, 125 (2d
Cir.1983)). Abrams simply alleges that Erfe, as the warden at
Cheshire C.I., failed to correct what Abrams views as an
unconstitutional policy of strip searching inmates upon entry
to segregation. Id., ¶ 107. However, he fails
to allege that Erfe was responsible for this policy or was
negligent in managing his subordinates in implementing
Abrams alleges that Doe and Erfe, as supervisors, failed
"to maintain a hazard free condition of
confinement" regarding the mold on Abrams's cell
vent in the segregation unit. Id., ¶¶ 94,
110. However, Plaintiff does not allege that either of these
defendants was aware of the mold or of any conditions in the
segregation unit which may have caused the mold to be
addition, Abrams seeks to hold Ramirez liable for interfering
with his legal mail because he "is the facility's
mail handler [and] is responsible for incoming [and] outgoing
mail." Id., ¶ 91. Plaintiff does not,
however, allege that Ramirez knew about the situation
regarding his legal correspondence.
based on the allegations in the Complaint, Abrams has
attempted to sue Erfe, Doe, and Ramirez based solely on each
of their supervisory roles at Cheshire C.I., which is
insufficient to allege personal involvement in any
constitutional deprivation. See Ayers v. Coughlin,
780 F.2d 205, 210 (2d Cir. 1985) (dismissing claims for lack
of defendants' "personal involvement" where
"plaintiff's claim for monetary damages against
these [supervisory official] defendants requires a showing of
more than the linkage in the prison chain of command; the
doctrine of respondeat superior does not apply");
McKinnon v. Patterson, 568 F.2d 930, 934 (2d Cir.
1977) ("In this Circuit personal involvement of
defendants in alleged constitutional deprivations is a
prerequisite to an award of damages under §1983;"
so the fact that Commissioner was in high position of
authority was an insufficient basis for personal liability).
Accordingly, Plaintiff's claims against Erfe, Doe, and
Ramirez are hereby DISMISSED.
Eighth Amendment Excessive Force Claim
use of excessive physical force against a prisoner may
constitute cruel and unusual punishment [even] when the
inmate does not suffer serious injury." Wilkins v.
Gaddy, 559 U.S. 34, 34 (2010) (quoting Hudson v.
McMillian, 503 US. 1, 4 (1992)). However, "not
'every malevolent touch by a prison guard gives rise to a
federal cause of action.'" Wilkins, 559
U.S. at 37 (quoting Hudson, 503 U.S. at 9); see
also Sims v. Artuz, 230 F.3d 14, 22 (2d Cir. 2000) (not
every push or shove violates prisoner's constitutional
rights); Romano v. ...