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Torrez v. Semple

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

May 21, 2018

JOSE ANTHONY TORREZ, Plaintiff,
v.
SCOTT SEMPLE, et al., Defendants.

          INITIAL REVIEW ORDER

          STEFAN R. UNDERHILL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         The plaintiff, Jose Anthony Torrez ("Torrez"), was formerly incarcerated at the MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution. He has filed a civil complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq. regarding an incident that occurred in December 2014 at Manson Youth Institution ("MYI"). He names Commissioner Scott Semple, Warden John Alves, Deputy Warden Thomas Hunt, Lieutenants Castro and Archer, and Correctional Officers Todd Ketchum, Ruggiero, and Lis as defendants.

         Under section 1915 A of Title 28 of the United States Code, I must review prisoner civil complaints and dismiss any portion of the complaint that is frivolous, malicious, or 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. Although detailed allegations are not required, the complaint must include sufficient facts to afford the defendants fair notice of the claims and grounds upon which they are based and to demonstrate a plausible right to relief. BellAtl. Corp. 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).

         Torrez alleges that he has been classified as a seriously mentally ill individual. Compl., Doc. No. 1 at ¶ 12. He claims to suffer from various mental health conditions including bipolar disorder, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, attention deficit disorder and hyperactive disorder. See Id. at If 13. He has taken medication and has undergone therapy to treat his disorders. See Id. at ¶ 14. Torrez claims that he has engaged in "mania . . . acts of self-harm associated with mental health" and "has suicidal ideations." Id. at If 15. On September 23, 2014, prison officials at MYI placed Torrez on Behavior Observation Status for attempting to commit suicide. See Id. at ¶ 37.

         On December 26, 2014, Torrez was standing in between cell eleven and cell twelve of D-Cottage, A-Wing, when he observed a physical altercation between two inmates. See Id. at fflf 16, 20. As he watched the altercation, two inmates and two pretrial detainees assaulted him. See Id. at 1| 20.

         Officers Ketchum and Ruggiero stood by and watched the assault on Torrez, but made no effort to intervene to assist Torrez. See Id. at fflf 21-22. Eventually, Torrez was able to flee from his attackers. See Id. at If 23. After other prison officials responded to the scene of the altercations, an official handcuffed Torrez. See Id. at fflf 24-25. Torrez was "drenched in blood" and his left eye was closed shut. Id. at ¶ 26. Torrez suffered a laceration under his right eye, a hematoma around his right eye and an abrasion to his elbow. See Id. at ¶ 27.

         Torrez claims that Commissioner Semple, Warden Alves, Deputy Warden Hunt and Lieutenants Castro and Archer were aware of his mental health conditions and should have housed him in G-Cottage which was the mental health unit at MYI. See Id. at ¶ 32. Four of the seven individuals involved in the altercation were pretrial detainees. See Id. at If 35. At the time of the altercation, Torrez was a sentenced inmate. See Id. at ¶ 34.

         Lieutenants Castro and Archer placed Torrez in administrative segregation after the altercation and deprived him of his mail, telephone, commissary and visiting privileges. See Id. at ¶ 29. In addition, Torrez lost good time credits. See Id. Torrez claims that if Lieutenants Castro and Archer had viewed the video of the altercation, they would have observed that he was only attempting to defend himself from being assaulted and therefore should not have been placed in segregation and should not have lost any privileges. See Id. at If 30.

         Torrez states that Officer Lis was a phone monitor at MYI. See Id. at ¶ 31. Torrez suggests that if Lis had listened carefully to telephone calls made by two of the inmates who were participants in the altercation on December 26, 2014, he would have overheard the inmates discussing conduct involving a risk of harm to other inmates and to the security of MYI. See id.

         Torrez asserts that he suffers from a mental health disability and Commissioner Semple, Warden Alves, Deputy Warden Hunt and Lieutenants Castro and Archer discriminated against him because of his disability by subjecting him to punitive segregation, assault, restrictive conditions of confinement and denial of various privileges. See Id. at fflf 42-43. Torrez contends that the defendants have violated his rights under the ADA by failing to place him in the "most integrated setting appropriate for his needs." Id. at ¶ 47. In addition, they have violated his rights under the Connecticut Patients' Rights Act. See Id. at ¶ 49.

         Torrez states that during his 10-day confinement in punitive segregation, officials denied him items of his property, use of the mail and telephone and the opportunity for recreation. He was confined in his cell for twenty-fours a day during that period. See Id. at If 45. On January 6, 2015, officials released him from punitive segregation and transferred him to Cheshire Correctional Institution. See Id. at ¶ 50. On January 30, 2015, prison officials released Torrez from imprisonment. See Id. Torrez made no effort to exhaust his administrative remedies relating to his claims prior to his release from prison. See Id.

         I. Section 1983 - Eighth Amendment Claims

         Torrez generally asserts that the defendants violated his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. He claims that the defendants confined him under conditions that exacerbated his mental health conditions and that the defendants violated his right to be free from assault by other inmates.

         The Eighth Amendment prohibits the infliction of "cruel and unusual punishments." U.S. Const, amend. VIII. Although the Constitution does not require "comfortable" prison conditions, the Eighth Amendment imposes certain duties on prison officials, to "ensure that inmates receive adequate food, clothing, shelter and medical care, and must take reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of the inmates." Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832-33 (1994) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

         To state a deliberate indifference to health or safety claim under the Eighth Amendment, an inmate must demonstrate both an objective and a subjective element. To meet the objective element, an inmate must allege that he was incarcerated under conditions that resulted in a "sufficiently serious" deprivation, such as the denial of a "life[] necessity[y]" or a "substantial risk of serious harm." Id. at 834 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). To meet the subjective element, an inmate must allege that the defendant prison officials possessed culpable intent, that is, the officials knew that he faced a substantial risk to his health or safety and disregarded that risk by failing to take corrective action. See Id. at 834, 837. Thus, an allegation of "mere negligen[t]" conduct is insufficient. Id. at 835. Rather, the subjective element requires that an inmate allege that prison officials acted with "a mental state equivalent to subjective recklessness, as the term is used in criminal law." Salahuddin v. Goord, 467 F.3d 263, 280 (2d Cir. 2006).

         Deliberate indifference by prison officials to a prisoner's serious medical or mental health needs constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. See Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976); Jareckv. Hensley, 552 F.Supp.2d 261, 264 (D. Conn. 2008) (applying Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference standard to inmate's claim of denial of treatment for mental health conditions); Atkins v. County of Orange, 372 F.Supp.2d 377, 408 (S.D.N.Y.2005) ("In the Second Circuit, it is equally clear that psychiatric or mental health care is an integral part of medical care and falls under the rule laid out in Estelle which requires that such care be provided to prisoners.") (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). To state a claim for deliberate indifference to a serious medical or mental health need, an inmate must meet a two-pronged test. Under the first prong, an inmate must demonstrate that his or her medical or mental health need was "sufficiently serious." Salahuddin, 467 F.3d at 279. Factors relevant to the seriousness of a medical condition include whether "a reasonable doctor or patient would find [it] important and worthy of comment, " whether the condition "significantly affects an individual's daily activities, " and whether it causes "chronic and substantial pain." Chance v. Armstrong, 143 F.3d 698, 702 (2d Cir. 1998) (quotation marks omitted). Subjectively, the defendant must have been actually aware of a substantial risk that the inmate would suffer serious harm as a result of his or her actions or inactions. See Salahuddin, 467 F.3d at 279-80.

         A. Failure to Protect Claim

         Torrez generally asserts that the defendants disregarded a risk to his safety by subjecting him to conditions of confinement described in the complaint and failed to take any corrective action. Specifically, Torrez contends that if defendant Lis, who was a phone monitor at MYI in 2014, had paid more attention to inmate telephone conversations, he would have heard two inmates, who were involved in the altercation that occurred on December 26, 2014, discussing "a potential risk of harm to other inmates safety and the security of [MYI]." Compl., Doc. No. 1 at ¶ 31. Torrez suggests that if defendant Lis had performed his monitoring j ob properly, the incident involving the altercation would not have occurred. Torrez claims that defendants Ketchum and Ruggiero were present during the altercation, but failed to take any action to stop the altercation or assist him.

         Torrez alleges that he sustained various injuries as a result of his involvement in the altercation, including a laceration under his eye and a hematoma near his eye. Torrez has plausibly alleged that he was subjected to conditions that posed a serious risk of harm to his health and safety. Thus, he has met the objective prong of the Eighth Amendment.

         Torrez stated that seven inmates, including himself, were involved in the altercation on December 26, 2014. Telephone conversations made by two inmates that occurred on unidentified dates and involved discussions about "a potential risk of harm to other inmates" are insufficient, however, to have put defendant Lis on notice that Torrez might be harmed in an altercation that involved six other inmates on December 26, 2014. See Farmer, 511 U.S. at 838 ("an official's failure to alleviate a significant risk that he should have perceived but did not, while no cause for commendation, cannot under our cases be condemned as the infliction of punishment"). Thus, Torrez has not plausibly alleged that defendant Lis possessed culpable intent in failing to determine from telephone conversations of other inmates that he might be subject to harm by those inmates ...


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