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Ashby v. Quiros

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

May 22, 2018

LAZALE ASHBY, Plaintiff,
v.
ANGEL QUIROS, SCOTT SEMPLE, WILLIAM MULLIGAN, WARDEN FANEUFF, GREGORIO ROBLES, CHERYL CAPELAK, AND MONICA RINALDI, Defendants.

          INITIAL REVIEW ORDER

          Charles S. Haight, Jr. Senior United States District Judge.

         The Plaintiff, Lazale Ashby, is currently incarcerated at Northern Correctional Institution ("Northern"). He has filed a Complaint [Doc. 1] under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against District Administrator Angel Quiros, Commissioner Scott Semple, Wardens William Mulligan and Faneuff (or "Fane Duff"), Unit Manager Gregorio Robles, and Deputy Commissioners Cheryl Capelak (or Cepelak) and Monica Rinaldi. The Court has subjected the pleading to the mandatory statutory review. For the reasons set forth below, the complaint will be dismissed in part.

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         28 U.S.C. § 1915A directs federal district courts to consider all prisoner civil complaints against governmental actors, 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." § 1915A(b)(1), (2).

         A district court's sua sponte dismissal of a prisoner's complaint under § 1915A is reviewed de novo by the court of appeals. Where the district court has dismissed for failure to state a claim, the Second Circuit has said that "we accept all of plaintiff's factual allegations in the complaint as true and draw inferences from those allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. We must reverse a district court's dismissal pursuant to § 1915A whenever a liberal reading of the complaint gives any indication that a valid claim might be stated." Larkin v. Savage, 318 F.3d 138, 139 (2d Cir. 2003) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

         At the district court level, the district judge's § 1915A review of whether a complaint "fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted" is guided by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, as interpreted by Supreme Court and Second Circuit decisions whose principles have become familiar. A pro se complaint is adequately pleaded if its allegations, liberally construed, could "conceivably give rise to a viable claim." Phillips v. Girdich, 408 F.3d 124, 130 (2d Cir. 2005).

         The Court must accept as true all well-pleaded and non-conclusory factual matters alleged in a complaint, although a complaint may not survive unless its factual recitations state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. See, e.g., Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009); Mastafa v. Chevron Corp., 770 F.3d 170, 177 (2d Cir. 2014). It is well-established that pro 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). In Larkin the Second Circuit took care to say, in the § 1915A context: "We will not affirm the dismissal of a complaint unless it appears beyond doubt, even when the complaint is liberally construed, that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts that would entitle him to relief." 318 F.3d at 139 (citation omitted).

         The Court will apply the foregoing standards in conducting its initial review of any claims asserted by Ashby. The Court begins with a recitation of the factual allegations contained in the pleading.

         II. FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS

         These factual allegations, accepted as true only for the purposes of this Order, are taken from the numbered paragraphs at pages 2-15 of the Complaint [Doc. 1], as well as the Exhibits to that filing.

         On March 29, 2010, Plaintiff was confined in a cell on death row at Northern.[1] ¶ 13. On that day Captain Jason Cahill was involved in an altercation with another death row inmate. ¶ 12, Ex. A. Following the altercation, prison officials at Northern imposed a lockdown of the death row unit. ¶ 14. Captain Cahill supervised a strip search of Plaintiff as well as a search of Plaintiff s cell and the confiscation of items of Plaintiff s personal property. ¶ 15.

         During the lockdown, prison staff placed Plaintiff on full restraint status. ¶ 16. Under this status, prison officials placed handcuffs, leg shackles and tether chain around Plaintiffs waist every time he left his cell. Id. Plaintiff has been on this indefinite restraint status ever since. The new restraint policy was memorialized on April 5, 2010, by Defendant Quiros, who was then Warden of Northern, in a policy recommendation memorandum. See Ex. A, "Death Row Restraint Policy Recommendation." The policy requires death row inmates to be placed either in handcuffs, leg shackles and a tether chain or just handcuffs behind their backs every time prison staff escorted them from their cells. Ex. A.

         No notice was given, nor was any hearing was held before prison officials imposed the new restraint status on Plaintiff. ¶ 19. That status is indefinite. Id. There is no process pursuant to which Plaintiff may challenge the restraint status or be relieved from the status. ¶ 20. After implementation of the restraint policy, prison officials installed "traps" in the doors of the dayrooms in the death row unit to enable officers to remove inmates' handcuffs while the inmates used the dayrooms. ¶ 21.

         Prior to the imposition of the new restraint policy, Plaintiff held a job as a tierman/janitor in the death row unit, for which he received "Level Two" pay, or $1.25 per day. ¶¶ 27-29. After the imposition of the restraint policy, he was removed from his tierman position . ¶ 27, 29. Plaintiffs tierman job was replaced with "Level One" pay of $0.75 per day. ¶ 30. Defendants continue to provide Plaintiff with Level One pay, for unspecified work responsibilities, because Defendants believe they are required, by Connecticut law, to provide work assignments for death row inmates whose cases remain on direct appeal. ¶ 30. Plaintiffs direct appeal remains pending. ¶ 31.

         Plaintiff has made verbal and written requests to remedy the restraint policy and employment issues. ¶ 36. He has also filed grievances regarding the change in his job assignment and the imposition of the restraint policy, which grievances have been denied. ¶ 37; Exs. I-L. Death row inmate Joseph Rizzo has been permitted to continue his employment. ¶ 35.

         During the seven months prior to the filing of this complaint, the State of Connecticut resentenced two other death row inmates, Russell Peeler, Jr. and Sedgwick Cobb, pursuant to the abolition of the death penalty in Connecticut. ¶¶ 38-39. After resentencing, Peeler and Cobb were no longer subject to the out-of-cell restraint policy. ¶ 38. In addition, prison officials permit Peeler and Cobb to engage in recreational activities for two extra hours a week and to use all of the equipment in the prison gym. ¶¶ 44-47 They are also eligible for prison jobs that pay a higher wage. ¶49.

         III. PLAINTIFF'S CLAIMS FOR RELIEF

         Plaintiff contends that the Defendants violated his Eighth Amendment right to freedom from cruel and unusual punishment and his Fourteenth Amendment rights to equal protection and due process, as well as his purported right to employment under C.G.S. § 18-10a, and his right to equal protection under the Connecticut Constitution. He seeks declaratory and injunctive relief and monetary damages.[2]

         A. Eighth Amendment Claim

         Plaintiff alleges that the requirement that he be placed in restraints every time he leaves his cell, and the refusal of prison officials to allow him to work, constitute punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment bar on cruel and unusual punishment.

         The Supreme Court has held that prisoners have no right to be housed in comfortable surroundings. See Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1980) (harsh or restrictive conditions are part of the penalty criminal offenders pay for their crimes). A prisoner's conditions of confinement, however, must meet "minimal civilized measures of life's necessities." Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 298 (1991). This means that prison officials are required to provide for inmates' basic human needs - "e.g., food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and reasonable safety." DeShaney v. Winnebago Cty. Dep't of Social Servs., 489 U.S. 189, 200 (1989).

         To state an Eighth Amendment conditions of confinement claim, an inmate must establish first, that a prison official denied him "the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities." Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). Second, the inmate must show that the official acted with subjective "deliberate indifference to [his] health or safety" because the official knew that the inmate "face[d] a substantial risk of serious harm and disregard[ed] that risk by failing to take reasonable measures to abate it." Id. at 834, 847 (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).

         Plaintiff has not alleged that the requirement that he be placed in handcuffs and leg restraints every time he leaves his cell deprives him of one of life's necessities. He concedes that he is not confined in restraints when he is in his cell or when he spends time in the dayroom. In addition, the notice attached to the complaint regarding the restraint policy states that restraints will be removed when an inmate showers, recreates, engages in social visits and telephone calls and uses the dayroom. See Compl., Ex. A.

         In conclusory statements on pages of the complaint, Plaintiff asserts that the restraint policy subjects him to "wanton infliction of pain." Compl. ¶¶ 58, 61. These unsupported statements do not state a plausible claim that the restraint policy has compromised Plaintiff's health or safety or otherwise deprived him of his basic human needs. See Branham v. Meachum, 77 F.3d 626, 631 (2d Cir. 1996) (affirming dismissal of Eighth Amendment claim regarding plaintiff's placement on full restraint status because condition was not unduly harsh and inmate did not assert facts to suggest that prison officials were deliberately indifferent to his health or safety); Vallade v. Fischer, No. 12-CV-231M, 2012 WL 4103864, at *3 (W.D.N.Y. Sept. 13, 2012) ("It is well-established that handcuffing an inmate is a regular incident of prison life which does not per se violate the Eighth Amendment."); Graham v. Fries, No. ...


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